Here’s how much US troops have been paid in every American war

Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Think it’s hard making it month to month in the barracks on just an E-1 pay?
Well, the recruits who won America’s earlier wars had to make ends meet with much, much less to draw on.
See how much troops made in each conflict, both in their own currency and adjusted for inflation:
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Author’s note: The pay structure changed over time. From the Korean War to today, military pay has been relatively consistent across the services and the numbers listed in entries 8-11 reflect the financial realities of an E-1 enlisted servicemember. For earlier conflicts, pay was calculated using the salary of a first-year Army private or a junior infantryman.
1. Revolutionary War

US troops depicted in the uniforms prescribed in the regulations of 1779.
Wikimedia Commons

Privates in 1776 earned $6 a month plus a bounty at the end of their service. That pay would equate to $157.58 today, a pretty cheap deal for the poor Continental Congress.
Unfortunately for soldiers, Congress couldn’t always make ends meet and so troops often went without their meager pay.
2. War of 1812

A painting of Choctaw and Free Black soldiers fighting British troops at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814.
U.S. Army Center Of Military History

Pay started at $5 a month for privates but was raised to $8 at the end of 1812. This was in addition to bounties ranging from $31 and 160 acres of land to $124 and 320 acres of land.
That $8 translates to $136.28 in 2016. The bounties ranged from $528.10 to $2,112.40 for terms of five years to the duration of the war.
3. Mexican-American War

The attack on Chapultepec, September 13, 1847.
Wikimedia/E.B. & E.C. Kellogg (Firm)

Young infantrymen in their first year of service during the Mexican-American War pocketed $7 per month, according to this Army history. That’s $210.10 in 2016 dollars.
4. Civil War

The Battle of Chickamauga raged from September 19 to September 20, 1863.
Library of Congress

Union privates in 1863 brought home $13 a month, which translates to $237.51 in modern dollars. Confederate privates had it a little worse at $11 a month.
The Confederate situation got worse as the war went on since the Confederate States of America established their own currency and it saw rapid inflation as the war situation got worse and worse.
5. Spanish-American War

The US flag is raised over Fort Santiago in the Philippines, August 13, 1898.
G.W. Petersvia Wikimedia Commons

While Army private pay in the Spanish-American War was still $13 like it had been in the Civil War, a period of deflation had strengthened the purchasing power of that monthly salary. In 2016 dollars, it would be worth $356.26.
6. World War I

US troops fighting in the Argonne during World War I.

A private, private second class, or bugler in his first year of service in 1917 was entitled to $30 a month. In exchange for this salary, which would equate to $558.12 today, privates could expect to face the guns of the Germans and other Axis powers.
World War I was the first war where, in addition to their pay, soldiers could receive discounted life insurance as a benefit.
The United States Government Life Insurance program was approved by Congress in 1917 and provided an alternative to commercial insurance which either did not pay out in deaths caused by war or charged extremely high premiums for the coverage.
7. World War II

A US Marine with a wounded hand leads troops ashore against entrenched Japanese on Tarawa, December 3,1943.
(AP Photo/US Marine Corps)

In 1944, privates serving in World War II made $50 a month, or $676.51 in 2016 dollars.
It seems like toppling three fascist dictators would pay better than that, but what do we know.
8. Korean War

A US soldier uses his BAR to return fire against Chinese Communist forces, on the bank of the Han River, February 23, 1951.
US Army

The minimum payment for an E-1 in 1952 was $78 a month which would equate to $700.92 in 2016.
Most soldiers actually deploying to Korea would have over four months in the Army and so would’ve received a pay bump to at least $83.20, about $747.64 today.
This was in addition to a foreign duty pay of $8 a month along with a small payment for rations when they weren’t provided.
9. Vietnam War

US Army helicopters drop US soldiers to join South Vietnamese troops in an attack on a Viet Cong camp northwest of Saigon near the Cambodian border in March 1965.
Associated Press/Horst Faas

E-1 wages were not increased between 1952 and 1958, so Korean War and Vietnam War troops made the same amount of money at the lower ranks – except inflation over the years drove the real value of the wages down.
New soldiers pocketing $78 would have a salary that equates to 642.71 now, while those with over four months of service who pocketed $83.20 were receiving the equivalent of $685.56 in today’s dollars.
10. Persian Gulf War

Troops march across the Potomac River on the Memorial Bridge toward the Pentagon during National Victory Celebration Parade, June 8, 1991.
AP Photo/Doug Mills

Grunts who went into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein were paid the princely sum of $753.90 a month in basic pay, unless they somehow managed to make it to Iraq with less than four months of service. Then they received $697.20.
These amounts would translate in 2016 dollars to $1,318.12 and $1,218.98 respectively.
11. War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War

US Army soldiers provide security on a street corner during a foot patrol in Tameem, Ramadi, Iraq.
Tech. Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock/US Air Force

Troops bringing the American flag back to Iraq in 2003 or deploying to Afghanistan in the same time period received just a little more than their Persian Gulf War predecessors, with $1,064.70 for soldiers with less than four months of service and $1,150.80 for the seasoned veterans with four months or more under their belts.
In 2016 dollars, those salaries equate to $1,377.93 and $1,489.36, a modest increase from the Persian Gulf War.
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