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Go to Original
Bush's Missing Year
By Eric Boehlert
Thursday 05 February 2004
In 1972, George W. Bush dropped out of his National Guard service and
later lied about it. With the media finally paying attention, will he
now come clean?
In 1972, George W. Bush simply walked away from his pilot duties
in the Texas Air National Guard. He skipped required weekend drill
sessions for many months, probably for more than a year, and did not
take a mandatory annual physical exam, which resulted in his being
grounded. Nonetheless, Bush, the son of a well-connected Texas
congressman, received an honorable discharge.
If an Air National guardsman today vanished for a year, military
attorneys say that guardsman would be transferred to active duty or,
more likely, kicked out of the service, probably with a
less-than-honorable discharge. They suggest the penalty would be
especially swift if the absent-without-leave guardsman were a fully
trained pilot, as Bush was.
Bush's National Guard record, long ignored by the media, has
surfaced with a vengeance. If the topic continues to rage, and if the
media presses him, Bush may finally be forced to release his full
military records, which could reveal the truth. By refusing to make
all those records public, Bush has until now broken with a
long-standing tradition of U.S. presidential candidates.
Democrats have seized on the story of Bush's "missing year,"
which was first raised in a 2000 Boston Globe article. This week
Democratic front-runner Sen. John Kerry called on Bush to give a
fuller explanation of his service record. That brought an outraged
response from Bush-Cheney '04 chairman Marc Racicot, who denounced
Kerry's request as a "slanderous attack" and "character
assassination." White House spokesman Scott McClellan also tried to
slam the door on the subject, declaiming that Democratic questions
about Bush's military service "have no place in politics and everyone
should condemn them."
In a sign that the Bush team is taking the issue seriously, on
Wednesday Bush's campaign spokesman questioned the integrity of the
retired Guard commander who claims Bush failed to show for duty in
1972, citing the commander's recent donation to a Democratic candidate
Republicans clearly want to quarantine the issue of Bush's
service and have it labeled as outside the bounds of acceptable public
discourse. With good reason: If the story takes root it could do real
damage to Bush's reelection run, which is anchored on his image as a
trusted leader in America's war on terrorism. Trying to make the
subject go away could prove difficult, though. "It's a booby trap
that's out there ticking for Bush," warns retired U.S. Army Col. David
Hackworth. "His opponents are going to keep turning this screw until
Right now, the network news is covering the political jousting.
It remains unclear, however, whether mainstream journalists will take
the time to examine Bush's military record and ask the president why,
after receiving pilot training that cost 1970s taxpayers nearly $1
million, he took it upon himself to decide he was finished with his
military requirements nearly two years before his six-year obligation
Bush's infrequent responses to questions on the issue have been
by turns false, misleading and contradictory. His memory has also
proved to be highly unreliable: During 2000, Bush variously could not
remember which weekends he served during the year in question, where
he served, under whose command, or what his duties were.
The story emerged in 2000 when the Boston Globe's Walter
Robinson, after combing through 160 pages of military documents and
interviewing Bush's former commanders, reported that Bush's flying
career came to an abrupt and unexplained end in the spring of 1972
when he asked for, and was inexplicably granted, a transfer to a
paper-pushing Guard unit in Alabama. During this time Bush worked on
the Senate campaign of a friend of his father's. With his six-year
Guard commitment, Bush was obligated to serve through 1973. But
according to his own discharge papers, there is no record that he did
any training after May 1972. Indeed, there is no record that Bush
performed any Guard service in Alabama at all. In 2000, a group of
veterans offered a $3,500 reward for anyone who could confirm Bush's
Alabama Guard service. Of the estimated 600 to 700 Guardsmen who were
in Bush's unit, not a single person came forward.
In 1973 Bush returned to his Houston Guard unit, but in May of
that year his commanders could not complete his annual officer
effectiveness rating report because, they wrote, "Lt. Bush has not
been observed at this unit during the period of the report." Based on
those records, as well as interviews with Texas Air National
guardsmen, the Globe raised serious questions as to whether Bush ever
reported for duty at all during 1973.
Throughout the 2000 campaign Bush aides never forcefully
questioned the Globe's account. Instead, they searched for military
documents that would support Bush's claim that he did indeed attend
drill duties during the year in question. His aides eventually
uncovered one piece of paper that seemed to bolster their case that he
had attended a drill in late 1972, but the document was torn and did
not have Bush's full name on it.
Today, the White House says that although Bush did miss some
weekend drills, he eventually made them up, and more importantly he
received an honorable discharge. Bush supporters routinely cite the
president's honorable discharge as the ultimate proof that there was
nothing unbecoming about his military service.
But experts say that citation does not wipe away the questions.
"An honorable discharge does not indicate a flawless record," says
Grant Lattin, a military law attorney in Washington and a retired
Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who served as a judge advocate, or JAG
officer. "Somebody could have missed a year's worth of Guard drills
and still end up with an honorable discharge." That's because of the
extraordinary leeway local commanders within the Guard are given over
these types of issues. Lattin notes that the Guard "is obviously very
political, even more so than other military institutions, and is
subject to political influence."
For failing to attend required monthly drill sessions and
refusing to take a physical, 1st Lt. Bush just as easily could have
been moved to active duty, given a less-than-honorable discharge, or
had his flying rights permanently revoked, says Eugene Fidell, a
leading Washington expert on military law. "For a fully trained pilot,
he was assigned to a nothing job [in Alabama], and the available
records indicate he never performed that job."
In the Guard today, as a general rule, "if someone doesn't show
up for drill duty, doesn't show up, and doesn't show up, they'll be
separated from their unit and given an other-than-honorable discharge"
most likely noting "unsatisfactory participation," says D.C. military
lawyer David Sheldon, who served in the Navy and represented officers
before the Court of Military Appeals.
Meanwhile, recent questions have surfaced not only about Bush's
military service, but his official records. "I think some documents
were taken out" of his military file, the Boston Globe's Robinson
tells Salon. "And there's at least one document that appears to have
been inserted into his record in early 2000." That document -- the
aforementioned torn page that did not have Bush's full name on it --
plays a central role in the story.
"His records have clearly been cleaned up," says author James
Moore, whose upcoming book, "Bush's War for Re-election," will examine
the issue of Bush's military service in great detail. Moore says as
far back as 1994, when Bush first ran for governor of Texas, his
political aides "began contacting commanders and roommates and people
who would spin and cover up his Guard record. And when my book comes
out, people will be on the record testifying to that fact: witnesses
who helped clean up Bush's military file."
If Bush wanted to resolve the questions about his National Guard
service, he could do so very easily. If he simply agreed to release
the contents of his military personnel records jacket, the Guard could
make public all his discharge papers, including pay records and total
retirement points, which experts say would shed the best light on
where Bush was, or was not, during the time in question between 1972
and 1973. (Many of Bush's documents are available through Freedom of
Information requests, but certain items deemed personal or private
cannot be released without Bush's permission.)
Releasing military records has become a time-honored tradition of
presidential campaigns. During the 1992 presidential election, Bush's
father, George H.W. Bush, called on his Democratic opponent, Bill
Clinton, to make public all personal documents relating his draft
status during the Vietnam War, including any correspondences with
"Clinton's draft board, the Selective Service System, the Reserve
Officer Training Corps, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the
Marines, the Coast Guard, the United States departments of State and
Justice, any U.S. foreign embassy or consulate." That, according to a
Bush-Quayle Oct. 15, 1992, press release.
Calls to the White House seeking comment on if and when the
president's full military records will be released were not returned.
The spark that reignited this issue came when ABC News anchor
Peter Jennings, co-moderating a Democratic debate on Jan. 22, asked
retired Gen. Wesley Clark why he did not repudiate comments made by
his supporter, filmmaker Michael Moore, who publicly labeled Bush a
"deserter." Jennings editorialized, "Now that's a reckless charge not
supported by the facts."
Republican pundits agreed. Bill Bennett, a director of Empower
America, told Fox News that Clark's "failure to distance himself,
repudiate, absolutely condemn Michael Moore's description of the
president as a deserter was a terrible thing."
Most informed observers agree that Moore's choice of words was
sloppy and inaccurate. "Deserter" is a criminal term: It refers to a
military personnel who abandons his post with no intention of ever
returning. But Democrats have taken hold of the broader issue of
whether Bush was AWOL. Their willingness to bring up a previously
off-limits subject reflects their sense that Bush's aura of
invincibility has worn off and the confidence imparted by Kerry's
resurgent campaign. Democrats feel Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran,
has the personal history to question Bush's service.
But the issue is also ripe because of Bush's own reelection
strategy. By donning a fighter flight suit and landing on the USS
Abraham Lincoln fora photo-op in May 2003, he has tried to paint
himself as a seasoned military leader in the United States' war on
terrorism. With newfound aggressiveness, Democrats are trying to
puncture that aura by hammering away on the fact that Bush's own
military record fails to back it up.
That's what Democratic National Committee chairman Terry
McAuliffe did this Sunday on ABC News' "This Week," when he referred
to Bush as "a man who was AWOL in the Alabama National Guard." That
brought a quick rebuttal from South Carolina's Republican Gov. Mark
Sanford, who told CNN it was wrong for Democrats to be "taking shots
at [Bush] for being a guardsman."
In similar fashion, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., claimed Tuesday
night that by bringing up Bush's National Guard service, the Democrats
are impugning the patriotism of guardsmen, implying that their
contributions are less worthy than those who serve in the military. As
those disingenuous comments suggest, Republicans are trying to change
the subject, falsely framing the debate as a repeat of the National
Guard controversy that dogged Vice President Dan Quayle during the
1988 presidential campaign.
It's easy to see why they're pursuing this strategy. If the story
were simply about how Bush used his family connections to land a slot
in the Texas Air National Guard (and all indications are he did just
that ), it wouldn't matter much. But the real story is not how Bush
got into the Guard. It's how he got out.
Until the last two days the mainstream media has routinely
ignored or downplayed the issue. Slate columnist Michael Kinsley took
euphemism to new heights when he wrote in a Dec. 5 column that Bush
was "lackadaisical" about fulfilling his Guard requirement. On Jan.
17, the Associated Press, recapping the "deserter" controversy, did
Bush a favor, erroneously reporting that his absent-without-leave time
lasted just three months in 1972, instead of the 12-18 months actually
in question. And on Feb. 1, ABC News, suggesting Democrats might turn
off voters by attacking Bush's military service, reported Bush simply
"missed some weekends of training." None of those descriptions come
anywhere near describing the established facts at the center of the
Perhaps that's not surprising. The press, apparently deeming the
National Guard story unworthy, paid more attention to the debate over
Moore's "deserter" comment than they did to the actual story of Bush's
unexplained absence when it came out during the 2000 campaign.
While co-moderating the Democratic debate, ABC News' Jennings was
sure he knew the facts about Bush's military record. But as the Daily
Howler noted, a search of the LexisNexis electronic database indicates
that ABC's "World News Tonight," hosted by Jennings, never once during
the 2000 campaign ran a report about the questions surrounding Bush's
military record. Asked if ignoring the story was a mistake, and
whether ABC News planned to pursue it in 2004, a network spokeswoman
told Salon, "We continue to examine the records of all the candidates
running for president, including President Bush. If and when we have a
story about one of the candidates, we'll report it to our audience."
ABC was not alone in turning away from the story in 2000. CBS
News did the same thing, and so did NBC News. But it was the New York
Times, and the way the paper of record avoided the issue of Bush's
no-show military service, that stands out as the most unusual. To this
day, the Times has never reported that in 1972 the Texas Air National
Guard grounded Bush for failing to take a required physical exam. Nor
has the paper ever reported that neither Bush nor his aides can point
to a single person who saw Bush, the hard-to-miss son of a congressman
and U.S. ambassador, perform any active duty requirements during the
final 18 months of his service. Instead, the Times served up stories
that failed to delve deep into the issue.
The Boston Globe story broke on May 23, 2000. The next day Bush
answered reporters' questions on the campaign trail, defending his
military record. His comments were covered by the Times Union (of
Albany, N.Y.), the Columbus Dispatch, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and
the Houston Chronicle, among others, which all considered the story
newsworthy. Not the Times: The paper ignored the fact Bush was forced
to respond to allegations that he'd been AWOL during his Guard
Throughout the 2000 campaign, the Times' Nicholas Kristof wrote a
series of biographical dispatches about Bush's personal history. On
July 11, he wrote about Bush's post-college years, including his
National Guard service, but no mention was made of the controversy
surrounding Bush's missing year.
The Times finally addressed the issue on July 22, two months
after the Globe exposé was published. The Times article, written by Jo
Thomas, focused on Bush's post-Yale years in the late '60s and early
'70s. In a section on the National Guard controversy, the Times
reported that Bush's commanding officer had told the Boston Globe that
Bush had never showed up, quoted Bush as insisting that he had, and
noted that "Emily Marks, who worked in the Blount campaign and dated
Mr. Bush, said she recalls that he returned to Montgomery after the
election to serve with the Air National Guard." But then the Times
went on to write, "National Guard records provided by the Guard and by
the Bush campaign indicate he did serve on Nov. 29, 1972, after the
election. These records also show a gap in service from that time to
the previous May. Mr. Bush says he made up for the lost time in
subsequent months, and guard records show he received credit for
having performed all the required service."
On Oct. 31, the Boston Globe published another damning story,
suggesting Bush failed to serve -- in fact, did not even show up for
duty-- during the final 18 months of his commitment. The Times' Thomas
quickly wrote, "A review of records by The New York Times indicated
that some of those concerns [about Bush's absence] may be unfounded."
Contradicting the Globe's account of Bush war service, the paper
reported that Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett "pointed to a document in
Mr. Bush's military records that showed credit for four days of duty
ending Nov. 29 and for eight days ending Dec. 14, 1972, and, after he
moved back to Houston, on dates in January, April and May."
The document cited by the Times is apparently the mysterious torn
paper that appeared in Bush's records in 2000. That document, a
"Statement of Points Earned," tracks when guardsmen have served, and
whether they have fulfilled their annual duty. It contains references
to "29" and "14" and other numbers whose meaning is not clear. The
Times did not inform its readers that the document is badly torn,
undated, and unsigned; does not have Bush's name on it (just a wayward
"W"); and has a redacted Social Security number.
"The Times got spun by Dan Bartlett," Robinson at the Globe told
Salon. He and others note that if the documents provided by the Bush
campaign proved he did Guard duty upon returning to Houston in January
and April of 1973, then why, on Bush's annual effectiveness report
signed by two superiors, did it say, "Lt. Bush has not been observed
at this unit during the period of the report," which covered the dates
between May 1, 1972, and April 30, 1973?
"I had a lot of arguments with Dan Bartlett and never got spun by
him," says Thomas, now an assistant chancellor for public affairs at
the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. "But if he gave me
some documents that proved his point, I'm not going to ignore them."
She added, "The Times carried no brief for or against Bush."
Nonetheless, the author James Moore says it was those two Times
stories, which seemed to back up Bush's sketchy account of his Guard
service, that effectively stopped other reporters from pursuing the
Here are the known facts of that story: Following his graduation
from Yale University in 1968, with the Vietnam War raging, Bush
vaulted to the top of a 500-person waiting list to land a coveted spot
in the Texas Air National Guard. Then, despite having no aviation or
ROTC experience, he was approved for an automatic commission as a
second lieutenant and assignment to flight school.
By every indication, Bush's service between 1970 and 1972 as a
fully trained pilot in the 111th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron near
Houston was commendable. But then came the spring of 1972 -- and Bush
Contrary to the official campaign biography that appeared on the
Bush Web site during 2000, which stated he flew fighter planes until
his discharge in late 1973, Bush flew for the last time ever in April
1972. In May, he moved to Alabama to help out in the Senate campaign
of Winton Blount, a friend of Bush's father. Bush asked to be
transferred to an Alabama Air National Guard unit where he could do
"equivalent training." Bush asked to be transferred to a postal unit
for paper-pushing duties -- and remarkably, his Houston commanders
signed off on the request. But officials at the Air Reserve Personnel
Center in Denver eventually overruled the request, pointing out the
obvious: Doing paperwork in a postal unit did not qualify as
"equivalent training" for a fully trained pilot.
The situation remained unresolved for months. During that time,
Bush was still obligated to attend drill sessions with his regular
unit near Houston. Guard records indicate he did not.
In September 1972, Bush won approval to do temporary training at
the 187th Squadron in Montgomery. But the unit's commander, retired
Brig. Gen. William Turnipseed, told the Boston Globe he was "dead
certain" Bush never showed. "Had he reported in, I would have had some
recall, and I do not. I had been in Texas, done my flight training
there. If we had had a first lieutenant from Texas, I would have
On Wednesday, Bush-Cheney '04 spokesman Terry Holt told Salon
that Turnipseed recently donated $500 to Sen. John Edwards' campaign.
Holt questioned whether the motives behind Turnipseed's comments
regarding Bush's service were "pure," or whether he's part of a
"political attack." Turnipseed could not be reached for comment.
In any case, as already noted, there is no official National
Guard record of Bush's ever serving in Alabama, and not a single
guardsman who served at that time has ever come forward and
corroborated that Bush was there.
Meanwhile, in July of that summer, Bush's "failure to accomplish"
his mandatory annual physical (that is, to take it) forced the Guard
to ground him.
Following Blount's election loss in November, Bush returned to
Houston. But he did not return to his Guard duties, at least according
to his commanding officers. In May 1973, his two superior officers at
Ellington Air Force Base noted on Bush's evaluation that he had not
been seen during the previous year. In the comments section, Lt. Col.
William Harris Jr. wrote that Bush "cleared this base on 15 May 1972,
and has been performing equivalent training in a non flying role with
the 187th Tac Recon Gp at Dannelly ANG Base, Alabama." The problem is,
Bush never reported for duty there, or anywhere else in Alabama.
According to his discharge papers, Bush took the whole year off
Bush was finally recorded as having crammed in 36 active-duty
credits during May, June and July 1973, thereby meeting his minimal
requirement. But as the Boston Globe pointed out, nobody connected
with the Texas unit recalls seeing Bush during his cram sessions,
leading to suspicions that Bush was given credits for active duty he
did not perform.
The suspicion stems in part from the incorrect, and inconsistent,
answers that Bush and his spokesmen have given to the question of why,
after going through extraordinarily rigorous flight training, he
simply walked away from flying. The day the Globe story appeared on
May 23, 2000, Bush explained to reporters that when he returned to
Houston in 1973, his old fighter plane was being phased out. "There
was a conscious decision not to retrain me in an airplane," he said,
suggesting it was the Texas Air National Guard's decision to end his
flying career. That's not true. The plane to which Bush was referring,
the F-102, was phased out during the 1970s, but it was still being
used in 1973. Bush did not tell reporters about his failed physical
exam and how that resulted in his being grounded.
That misleading answer about Bush's Guard service was just one of
many the candidate and his aides gave during the campaign. For
instance, a campaign official told Cox News reporters in July 1999
that Bush's transfer to the Alabama Guard unit was for the same flying
job he held in Texas. That's false. There was no flying involved at
either Alabama unit (not that Bush ever reported to them, according to
Guard records), and without passing a physical, Bush couldn't fly
Also in July 1999, Bush's then-spokeswoman Karen Hughes told the
Associated Press it was accurate for Bush to suggest, as he'd done in
a previous campaign, that he served "in the U.S. Air Force," when in
fact he served in the Air National Guard.
Asked in 2000 why Bush failed to take his physical in July 1972,
the campaign gave two different explanations. The first was that Bush
was (supposedly) serving in Alabama and his personal physician was in
Texas, so he couldn't get a physical. That's false. By military
regulations, Bush could not have received a military physical from his
personal physician, only from an Air Force flight surgeon, and there
were several assigned to nearby Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery,
Ala. The other explanation was that because Bush was no longer flying,
he didn't need to take a physical. But that simply highlights the
extraordinary nature of Bush's service and the peculiar notion that he
took it upon himself to decide that a) he was no longer a pilot and b)
he didn't have to take a physical.
Early in September 1973, Bush submitted a request to effectively
end any requirements to attend monthly drills. Despite Bush's record,
the request was approved. He was given an honorable discharge, and
that fall he enrolled in Harvard Business School.
One of the obvious questions raised by Bush's missing year is why
he was never brought up on any disciplinary charges under the Uniform
Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and why he was given an honorable
discharge. (It's unlikely Bush could have run for president if he'd
been tainted with anything less than an honorable discharge from the
But the issue is not that black and white. "An honorable
discharge usually means the person has not committed any misconduct,"
says retired JAG officer Lattin. "He may have failed to honor his
obligation, but he hasn't committed a criminal act. And that's an
It's important, because based on Lattin's interpretation of the
military law, a guardsman on non-active duty who fails to show up for
his monthly drill sessions, as Bush did, is not subject to the UCMJ.
The UCMJ, Lattin says, applies only to active-duty servicemen. And
while guardsmen who report for weekend duty are covered for those 48
hours by the UCMJ's unique codes (regarding desertion, being AWOL,
etc.), a non-active guardsman who refuses to report for duty in the
first place cannot be covered by the UCMJ. Instead, an
absent-without-leave guardsman is subject to the state's military
codes of justice, which mirror the UCMJ.
But even then, says Lattin, cases of guardsmen who fail to attend
drill sessions are rarely dealt with under the military's criminal
code, but rather administratively, which is less burdensome.
Administrative options include transferring the solider to active
duty, or separating him from his unit while beginning dismissal
procedures that would likely -- although not always -- result in a
less than, or other than, honorable discharge. Also in Bush's case, he
could have been permanently stripped of his flight privileges.
So why was no administrative action taken against Bush during his
missing year or more? "It could have been mere inefficiency, or a
reluctance to create controversy with the son of an important federal
official," says Fidell, the military law expert. "Observers of the
Guard at that time have said it did seem to be an entity in which
connections might be helpful."
Lattin is more blunt. "The National Guard is extremely political
in the sense of who you know," he says. "And it's true to this very
day. One person is handled very strictly and the next person is not.
If George Bush Jr. is in your unit, you're going to bend over backward
not to offend that family. It all comes down to who you know."
Lattin stresses that the Bush episode, and the Guard's failure to
take any administrative actions against him, have to be viewed in
context of the early '70s. With the Vietnam War beginning to wind down
and the U.S. military battling endemic low morale, the Pentagon showed
little interest in chasing after absent-without-leave guardsmen. "It
was too hard and there were too many of them," says Lattin. "There was
a 'who cares' attitude. Commanders didn't want to deal with them. And
they knew they'd stir up a hornet's nest, especially if one of the
[missing guardsmen] was named George Bush."
Go to Original
One-year Gap in Bush's National Guard Duty
By Walter V. Robinson
The Boston Globe
Tuesday 23 May 2000
No record of airman at drills from 1972-73
AUSTIN, Texas - After George W. Bush became governor in 1995, the
Houston Air National Guard unit he had served with during the Vietnam
War years honored him for his work, noting that he flew an F-102
fighter-interceptor until his discharge in October 1973.
And Bush himself, in his 1999 autobiography, "A Charge to Keep,"
recounts the thrills of his pilot training, which he completed in June
1970. "I continued flying with my unit for the next several years,"
the governor wrote.
But both accounts are contradicted by copies of Bush's military
records, obtained by the Globe. In his final 18 months of military
service in 1972 and 1973, Bush did not fly at all. And for much of
that time, Bush was all but unaccounted for: For a full year, there is
no record that he showed up for the periodic drills required of
Bush, who declined to be interviewed on the issue, said through a
spokesman that he has "some recollection" of attending drills that
year, but maybe not consistently.
From May to November 1972, Bush was in Alabama working in a US
Senate campaign, and was required to attend drills at an Air National
Guard unit in Montgomery. But there is no evidence in his record that
he did so. And William Turnipseed, the retired general who commanded
the Alabama unit back then, said in an interview last week that Bush
never appeared for duty there.
After the election, Bush returned to Houston. But seven months
later, in May 1973, his two superior officers at Ellington Air Force
Base could not perform his annual evaluation covering the year from
May 1, 1972 to April 30, 1973 because, they wrote, "Lt. Bush has not
been observed at this unit during the period of this report."
Bush, they mistakenly concluded, had been training with the
Alabama unit for the previous 12 months. Both men have since died. But
Ellington's top personnel officer at the time, retired Colonel Rufus
G. Martin, said he had believed that First Lieutenant Bush completed
his final year of service in Alabama.
A Bush spokesman, Dan Bartlett, said after talking with the
governor that Bush recalls performing some duty in Alabama and
"recalls coming back to Houston and doing [Guard] duty, though he does
not recall if it was on a consistent basis."
Noting that Bush, by that point, was no longer flying, Bartlett
added, "It's possible his presence and role became secondary."
Last night, Mindy Tucker, another Bush campaign aide, asserted
that the governor "fulfilled all of his requirements in the Guard." If
he missed any drills, she said, he made them up later on.
Under Air National Guard rules at the time, guardsmen who missed
duty could be reported to their Selective Service Board and inducted
into the Army as draftees.
If Bush's interest in Guard duty waned, as spokesman Bartlett
hinted, the records and former Guard officials suggest that Bush's
unit was lackadaisical in holding him to his commitment. Many states,
Texas among them, had a record during the Vietnam War of providing a
haven in the Guard for the sons of the well-connected, and a tendency
to excuse shirking by those with political connections.
Those who trained and flew with Bush, until he gave up flying in
April 1972, said he was among the best pilots in the 111th
Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. In the 22-month period between the end
of his flight training and his move to Alabama, Bush logged numerous
hours of duty, well above the minimum requirements for so-called
Indeed, in the first four years of his six-year commitment, Bush
spent the equivalent of 21 months on active duty, including 18 months
in flight school. His Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore, who
enlisted in the Army for two years and spent five months in Vietnam,
logged only about a month more active service, since he won an early
release from service.
Still, the puzzling gap in Bush's military service is likely to
heighten speculation about the conspicuous underachievement that
marked the period between his 1968 graduation from Yale University and
his 1973 entry into Harvard Business School. It is speculation that
Bush has helped to fuel: For example, he refused for months last year
to say whether he had ever used illegal drugs. Subsequently, however,
Bush amended his stance, saying that he had not done so since 1974.
The period in 1972 and 1973 when Bush sidestepped his military
obligation coincides with a well-publicized incident during the 1972
Christmas holidays: Bush had a confrontation with his father after he
took his younger brother, Marvin, out drinking and returned to the
family's Washington home after knocking over some garbage cans on the
In his autobiography, Bush says that his decision to go to
business school the following September was "a turning point for me."
Assessing Bush's military service three decades later is no easy
task: Some of his superiors are no longer alive. Others declined to
comment, or, understandably, cannot recall details about Bush's
comings and goings. And as Bush has risen in public life over the last
several years, Texas military officials have put many of his records
off-limits and heavily redacted many other pages, ostensibly because
of privacy rules.
But 160 pages of his records, assembled by the Globe from a
variety of sources and supplemented by interviews with former Guard
officials, paint a picture of an Air Guardsman who enjoyed favored
treatment on several occasions.
The ease of Bush's entry into the Air Guard was widely reported
last year. At a time when such billets were coveted and his father was
a Houston congressman, Bush vaulted to the top of a waiting list of
500. Bush and his father have denied that he received any preferential
treatment. But last year, Ben Barnes, who was speaker of the Texas
House in 1968, said in a sworn deposition in a civil lawsuit that he
called Guard officials seeking a Guard slot for Bush after a friend of
Bush's father asked him to do so.
Before he went to basic training, Bush was approved for an
automatic commission as a second lieutenant and assignment to flight
school despite a score of just 25 percent on a pilot aptitude test.
Such commissions were not uncommon, although most often they went to
prospective pilots who had college ROTC courses or prior Air Force
experience. Bush had neither.
In interviews last week, Guard officials from that era said Bush
leapfrogged over other applicants because few applicants were willing
to commit to the 18 months of flight training or the inherent dangers
As a pilot, the future governor appeared to do well. After eight
weeks of basic training in the summer of 1968 - and a two-month break
to work on a Senate race in Florida - Bush attended 55 weeks of flight
school at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, from November 1968 to
November 1969, followed by five months of full-time training on the
F-102 back at Ellington.
Retired Colonel Maurice H. Udell, Bush's instructor in the F-102,
said he was impressed with Bush's talent and his attitude. "He had his
boots shined, his uniform pressed, his hair cut and he said, 'Yes,
sir' and 'No, sir,' the instructor recalled.
Said Udell, "I would rank him in the top 5 percent of pilots I
knew. And in the thinking department, he was in the top 1 percent. He
was very capable and tough as a boot."
But 22 months after finishing his training, and with two years
left on his six-year commitment, Bush gave up flying - for good, it
would turn out. He sought permission to do "equivalent training" at a
Guard unit in Alabama, where he planned to work for several months on
the Republican Senate campaign of Winton Blount, a friend of Bush's
father. The proposed move took Bush off flight status, since no
Alabama Guard unit had the F-102 he was trained to fly.
At that point, starting in May 1972, First Lieutenant Bush began
to disappear from the Guard's radar screen.
When the Globe first raised questions about this period earlier
this month, Bartlett, Bush's spokesman, referred a reporter to Albert
Lloyd Jr., a retired colonel who was the Texas Air Guard's personnel
director from 1969 to 1995.
Lloyd, who a year ago helped the Bush campaign make sense of the
governor's military records, said Bush's aides were concerned about
the gap in his records back then.
On May 24, 1972, after he moved to Alabama, Bush made a formal
request to do his equivalent training at the 9921st Air Reserve
Squadron at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Two days later, that
unit's commander, Lieutenant Colonel Reese H. Bricken, agreed to have
Bush join his unit temporarily.
In Houston, Bush's superiors approved. But a higher headquarters
disapproved, noting that Bricken's unit did not have regular drills.
"We met just one weeknight a month. We were only a postal unit.
We had no airplanes. We had no pilots. We had no nothing," Bricken
said in an interview.
Last week, Lloyd said he is mystified why Bush's superiors at the
time approved duty at such a unit.
Inexplicably, months went by with no resolution to Bush's status
- and no Guard duty. Bush's evident disconnection from his Guard
duties was underscored in August, when he was removed from flight
status for failing to take his annual flight physical.
Finally, on Sept. 5, 1972, Bush requested permission to do duty
for September, October, and November at the 187th Tactical Recon Group
in Montgomery. Permission was granted, and Bush was directed to report
to Turnipseed, the unit's commander.
In interviews last week, Turnipseed and his administrative
officer at the time, Kenneth K. Lott, said they had no memory of Bush
"Had he reported in, I would have had some recall, and I do not,"
Turnipseed said. "I had been in Texas, done my flight training there.
If we had had a first lieutenant from Texas, I would have remembered."
Lloyd, the retired Texas Air Guard official, said he does not
know whether Bush performed duty in Alabama. "If he did, his drill
attendance should have been certified and sent to Ellington, and there
would have been a record. We cannot find the records to show he
fulfilled the requirements in Alabama," he said.
Indeed, Bush's discharge papers list his service and duty station
for each of his first four years in the Air Guard. But there is no
record of training listed after May 1972, and no mention of any
service in Alabama. On that discharge form, Lloyd said, "there should
have been an entry for the period between May 1972 and May 1973."
Said Lloyd, "It appeared he had a bad year. He might have lost
interest, since he knew he was getting out."
In an effort last year to solve the puzzle, Lloyd said he scoured
Guard records, where he found two "special orders" commanding Bush to
appear for active duty on nine days in May 1973. That is the same
month that Lieutenant Colonel William D. Harris Jr. and Lieutenant
Colonel Jerry B. Killian effectively declared Bush missing from duty.
In Bush's annual efficiency report, dated May 2, 1973, the two
supervising pilots did not rate Bush for the prior year, writing, "Lt.
Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of report. A
civilian occupation made it necessary for him to move to Montgomery,
Alabama. He cleared this base on 15 May 1972 and has been performing
equivalent training in a non-flying status with the 187 Tac Recon Gp,
Dannelly ANG Base, Alabama."
Asked about that declaration, campaign spokesman Bartlett said
Bush told him that since he was no longer flying, he was doing "odds
and ends" under different supervisors whose names he could not recall.
But retired colonel Martin, the unit's former administrative
officer, said he too thought Bush had been in Alabama for that entire
year. Harris and Killian, he said, would have known if Bush returned
to duty at Ellington. And Bush, in his autobiography, identifies the
late colonel Killian as a friend, making it even more likely that
Killian knew where Bush was.
Lieutenant Bush, to be sure, had gone off flying status when he
went to Alabama. But had he returned to his unit in November 1972,
there would have been no barrier to him flying again, except passing a
flight physical. Although the F-102 was being phased out, his unit's
records show that Guard pilots logged thousands of hours in the F-102
During his search, Lloyd said, the only other paperwork he
discovered was a single torn page bearing Bush's social security
number and numbers awarding some points for Guard duty. But the
partial page is undated. If it represents the year in question, it
leaves unexplained why Bush's two superior officers would have
declared him absent for the full year.
There is no doubt that Bush was in Houston in late 1972 and early
1973. During that period, according to Bush's autobiography, he held a
civilian job working for an inner-city, antipoverty program in the
Lloyd, who has studied the records extensively, said he is an
admirer of the governor and believes "the governor honestly served his
country and fulfilled his commitment."
But Lloyd said it is possible that since Bush had his sights set
on discharge and the unit was beginning to replace the F-102s, Bush's
superiors told him he was not "in the flow chart. Maybe George Bush
took that as a signal and said, 'Hell, I'm not going to bother going
"Well, then it comes rating time, and someone says, 'Oh...he
hasn't fulfilled his obligation.' I'll bet someone called him up and
said, 'George, you're in a pickle. Get your ass down here and perform
some duty.' And he did," Lloyd said.
That would explain, Lloyd said, the records showing Bush cramming
so many drills into May, June, and July 1973. During those three
months, Bush spent 36 days on duty.
Bush's last day in uniform before he moved to Cambridge was July
30, 1973. His official release from active duty was dated Oct. 1,
1973, eight months before his six-year commitment was scheduled to
Officially, the period between May 1972 and May 1973 remains
unaccounted for. In November 1973, responding to a request from the
headquarters of the Air National Guard for Bush's annual evaluation
for that year, Martin, the Ellington administrative officer, wrote,
"Report for this period not available for administrative reasons."
BUSH'S MILITARY SERVICE
During his first four years in the Texas Air National Guard,
according to his military records, Bush had a busy schedule of
full-time training and drills:
May 28, 1968: Bush enlists as an Airman Basic in the 147th
Fighter-Interceptor Group, Ellington Air Force Base, Houston, and is
selected to attend pilot training.
July 12, 1968: A three-member board of officers decides that Bush
should get a direct commission as a second lieutenant after competing
airman's basic training.
July 14 to Aug. 25, 1968: Bush attends six weeks of basic
training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
Sept. 4, 1968: Bush is commissioned a second lieutenant and takes
an 8-week leave to work on a Senate campaign in Florida.
Nov. 25, 1968 to Nov. 28, 1969: Bush attends and graduates from
flight school at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.
December 1969 to June 27, 1970: Bush trains full-time to be an
F-102 pilot at Ellington Air Force Base.
July 1970 to April 16, 1972: Bush, as a certified fighter pilot,
attends frequent drills and alerts at Ellington.
During his fifth year as a guardsman, Bush's records show no sign
he appeared for duty.
May 24, 1972: Bush, who has moved to Alabama to work on a US
Senate race, gets permission to serve with a reserve unit in Alabama.
But headquarters decided Bush must serve with a more active unit.
Sept. 5, 1972: Bush is granted permission to do his Guard duty at
the 187th Tactical Recon Group in Montgomery. But Bush's record shows
no evidence he did the duty, and the unit commander says he never
November 1972 to April 30, 1973: Bush returns to Houston, but
apparently not to his Air Force unit.
May 2, 1973: The two lieutenant colonels in charge of Bush's unit
in Houston cannot rate him for the prior 12 months, saying he has not
been at the unit in that period.
May to July 1973: Bush, after special orders are issued for him
to report for duty, logs 36 days of duty.
July 30, 1973: His last day in uniform, according to his records.
Oct. 1, 1973: A month after Bush starts at Harvard Business
School, he is formally discharged from the Texas Air National Guard --
eight months before his six-year term expires.
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