Personal life

by Elizabeth LeBras

This chapter is a free excerpt from David Petraeus: A Biography.

Two qualities have characterized Petraeus throughout his lifeambition and physical resilience. Growing up, he was obedient, clean-cut, and studious, and never exhibited rebellious behavior, even while attending high school in the late 1960s. He participated in a broad range of extracurricular activities: skiing, soccer, rowing, and the drama, debate, and French clubs.

Many West Point faculty members lived in Cornwall-on-Hudson and Petraeus got to know some of them while he was growing up, a factor that may have contributed to his ambition to attend the school. Having West Point so close by, he developed a “degree of respect” for the school, Petraeus said.

Petraeus has survived two potentially fatal accidents. In 2000, while skydiving, his parachute collapsed at 60 feet above the ground. The fall broke his pelvis, which had to be repaired with a plate and long screws. On September 21, 1991, while he was watching an infantry squad practice attacking a bunker with grenades and live ammunition, a rifleman tripped and accidentally shot Petraeus in the chest with an M-16. While still recuperating on his hospital bed, Petraeus pulled the hospital tubes out of his arm and dropped to the floor to do 50 push-ups.


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Two qualities have characterized Petraeus throughout his lifeambition and physical resilience. Growing up, he was obedient, clean-cut, and studious, and never exhibited rebellious behavior, even while attending high school in the late 1960s. He participated in a broad range of extracurricular activities: skiing, soccer, rowing, and the drama, debate, and French clubs.

Many West Point faculty members lived in Cornwall-on-Hudson and Petraeus got to know some of them while he was growing up, a factor that may have contributed to his ambition to attend the school. Having West Point so close by, he developed a “degree of respect” for the school, Petraeus said.

Petraeus has survived two potentially fatal accidents. In 2000, while skydiving, his parachute collapsed at 60 feet above the ground. The fall broke his pelvis, which had to be repaired with a plate and long screws. On September 21, 1991, while he was watching an infantry squad practice attacking a bunker with grenades and live ammunition, a rifleman tripped and accidentally shot Petraeus in the chest with an M-16. While still recuperating on his hospital bed, Petraeus pulled the hospital tubes out of his arm and dropped to the floor to do 50 push-ups.

Petraeus established a close, personal relationship with Bush during his presidency and was considered Bush’s favorite general. During the surge in Iraq, Petraeus conducted weekly video conferences with Bush and the two went mountain biking together in Washington.

In 2009, Petraeus underwent successful treatment for early-stage prostate cancer. A public statement issued at the time reported that the treatment had only minimally interfered with his work schedule.

Family

Petraeus married Holly Knowlton, daughter of West Point’s superintendent. Petraeus and his wife have two grown children, a son named Stephen and a daughter named Anne. Stephen graduated from MIT in 2009, while Anne graduated from Dickinson College in 2004.

In March 2011, during a Congressional hearing, Petraeus disclosed that his son Stephen, a commissioned officer, had just completed a tour of Afghanistan. Stephen Petraeus’s combat had thankfully been kept “very quiet” at the time, Petraeus said.

Holly Petraeus

Holly Petraeus is a well-known advocate for the rights of military families. She has a lifelong connection to the military; in addition to her husband and son, her grandfather, great-grandfather, father, and brother all served in the armed forces. She is frequently quoted by the media, and has testified to Congress and blogged about the hardships of military families, and the problem of financial scams targeting US troops and their families. In 1974, Holly Petraeus graduated from Dickinson College, where she completed an honors thesis on the French novelist Francois Mauriac.

In the past, Holly Petraeus served as the director of the Better Business Bureau’s Military Line, which offers financial education to military families and advice on how to avoid falling victim to scams. Rod Davis, a former co-worker at the BBB, described Holly Petraeus to NPR: “She’s Mom, apple pie, and also a pit bull. You get her in a corner and watch her go.”

In January 2011, Holly Petraeus joined the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where she serves as director of the Office of Servicemember Affairs, which is responsible for protecting families of servicemembers from financial scams. Her appointment to the CFPB won praise from Republicans, who have been highly critical of the agency, which was created in 2010.

Last year, she commented on the numerous incidents of banks foreclosing on the homes of serving members of the military, in violation of the law, telling the New York Times “it is a terrible situation for the family at home and for the service member abroad, who feels helpless.” More recently, she has spoken about the recent trend of unscrupulous for-profit colleges targeting veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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