|An Absence in Alabama|
As Bush’s military service
re-emerges as an issue, here is what we knowand don’t know
By MARK THOMPSON and JAMES
Posted Sunday, February
From the start, Bush’s military
record shows evidence of favoritism, beginning with the way he won a coveted
spot in the Texas Air National Guard in May 1968a time when nearly 300
Americans a week were coming home in body bags. “I’m saying to myself,
‘What do I want to do?'” Bush told a Texas interviewer in 1989. “I think
I don’t want to be an infantry guy as a private in Vietnam. What I do decide
to want to do is learn to fly.”
After graduating from Yale, Bush leaped to the top of a 500-man Texas Guard
despite scoring poorly on a pilot aptitude test. At the time, Bush’s
father was a G.O.P. Congressman from Houston, and Ben Barneswho was speaker
of the Texas House in 1968testified in 1999 that he had put in a good
word for Bush with Guard officials at the request of a Bush family friend.
got into the Texas Guard’s “champagne unit”
(along with the sons
of other Texas politicians, like John Connally and Lloyd Bentsen) and was
trained to fly the F-102 Delta Dagger. After spending more than a year
in training, Bush was obligated to report for duty one weekend a month
at Houston’s Ellington Air Force Base, protecting the Gulf Coast of the
U.S. from aerial attack.
“No one used political influence to get him into the Guard,” Walter B.
(Buck) Staudt, Bush’s commanding officer in the Texas Guard, insisted last
week. “He passed all the tests, did all the stuff that’s required. I thought
he was a success.”
Guard immortalized Bush’s first solo flight in an F-102, issuing a press
release at the time celebrating the patriotism of the freshly minted jet
jockey. “George Walker Bush is one member of the younger generation
who doesn’t get his kicks from pot, hashish or speed,” it began. Bush
got all the high he needed, it continued, flying the F-102. “I’ve always
wanted to be a fighter pilot, and I wouldn’t want to fly anything else,”
the 23-year-old Bush said.
thrill soon wore off. Bush spent two years flying part time with the Texas
National Guard and then in May 1972, he headed to Alabama to work for six
months on the unsuccessful Senate campaign of family friend Winton Blount,
who had resigned as chairman of the U.S. Postal Service to seek the seat.
Bush applied to perform “equivalent” service with the Alabama National
Guard during the campaign. But Bush, a self-admitted carouser in his younger
days, apparently played some hooky: no official record of his Alabama service
has ever surfaced. Because the Alabama Guard did not fly F-102s, Bush
accepted “non-flying status” in Montgomery, according to Texas Guard records.
And because he was not flying, he elected not to get his annual flight
physical, which forced the Guard to bar him from flying. …
returned to Houston after Blount lost his Senate race in November 1972.
But there is no official record that Bush performed Guard drills during
the next six months. In May 1973, Bush’s superiors in Houston wrote that
they could not give Bush his annual evaluation because he had “not been
observed at this unit during the period of this report”from May 1, 1972,
to April 30, 1973. Also in May 1973, the Texas Guard issued two “special
orders” directing Bush to report for duty. Over the next three months,
Bush returned to his original Texas Guard unit and crammed in 36 days of
active duty, apparently fulfilling the Guard’s demands. In October 1973
he received an honorable dischargenearly eight months earlyso
he could attend Harvard Business School.
Kerry, the Democratic front runner, received an early discharge from military
service toobecause he had earned three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and
a Silver Star during 11 months in Vietnam.
With reporting by Douglas
Waller with Kerry