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Bush Verses Kerry - Questions About Military Service Revisited

August 10, 2004
by Evelyn Pringle

That's it. I've had it. Questions about Bush's military service in the Air National Guard would in all likelihood be history by now if not for the constant Republican attacks on Kerry's patriotism and war record, along with a steady stream of accusations that he is weak on defense and national security.

Due to their own stupidity, the spotlight will now be on the military records of our deserter-in-chief and Top VP Chickenhawk for the duration of the campaign. I hereby intend to remind voters that while Kerry was in Vietnam putting his life on the line, Bush was a drunken AWOL deserter roaming around somewhere in between Alabama and Texas, every time I get the chance.

Lets start at the beginning of Bush's military career. There is no doubt that he received special treatment to get in the Texas Air National Guard. When he was accepted, there were over 100,000 guys on waiting lists all over the country, and there were 500 on the Texas list alone.

Bush denies receiving any help, "I can just tell you, from my perspective, I never asked for, I don't believe I received special treatment," he told reporters. When running for governor in 1993, he said "There was no special treatment. They were looking for pilots, and I was honored to serve."

Bush spokesman, David Beckwith, inferred he was accepted because he was more qualified than other guys: "A lot of people weren't qualified," he said, "so special commissions were offered to those willing to undergo the extra training required."

What a joke. Did they really think people would buy a story that Bush was more qualified than others, when he only scored 25% on the Pilot Aptitude Test (the lowest score allowed for would-be pilots)?

In any event, Charles Shoemake, chief of personnel in the Texas Guard from 1972 to 1980, denies there was a shortage or that Bush was better qualified. "We had so many people coming in who were super-qualified," he said. Tom Hail, historian for the Texas Guard, also said that records do not show a pilot shortage at the time.

Bush only joined the Guard because his student deferment was set to run out. In January 1968 he met with Colonel Walter Staudt, then commander of the Texas Guard. Shortly thereafter, he was accepted ahead of everyone else on the list.

Ben Barnes, former Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, also helped Bush get in at the request of a Bush family friend, Sid Adger. Barnes said he was contacted by Adger and asked to help Bush get in, and so he called Gen. James Rose and did it. Barnes' account of events is contained in a statement released after he testified under oath in a deposition in a federal lawsuit in September, 1999.

Barnes also testified that he had since met with a top Bush adviser to discuss how to rebut allegations that Bush got special treatment. Barnes proved that the meeting took place, by producing a note from Bush himself, thanking him for his help in rebutting rumors that Bush's father helped his son find a Guard slot.

The Bush gang also claims he got no help when he received a direct appointment. "Our information is there was absolutely no special deal," said Beckwith. The truth is, both Barnes and Staudt recommended him for a direct appointment, which allowed him to become a second lieutenant right out of basic training, without having to go through officer candidate school, and which guaranteed Bush a spot in the pilot training program.

Military records released so far contain no explanation for Bush's strange behavior during his final 18 months in the Guard, when he failed to show up for a physical, was suspended from flying, and went for five months without attending a single drill.

Questions about these issues gained momentum a while back when Michael Moore called Bush a deserter, and DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe pointed out that Bush went AWOL after taxpayers invested a quarter of a million dollars training him to be a fighter pilot.

When Bush joined the Guard he said he had a goal of "making flying a lifetime pursuit." He also signed a document stating he understood the penalty of not measuring up to Guard standards: "I understand that I may be ordered to active duty for a period not to exceed 24 months for unsatisfactory participation," it said.

Yet, even under the threat of being ordered to active duty, Bush seemingly had no fear when he allowed himself to be suspended. The 1972 suspension order stated:

Verbal orders of the Comdr on 1 Aug 72 suspending 1STLT George W. Bush.from flying status are confirmed.Reason for Suspension: Failure to accomplish annual medical examination. Off will comply with para 2-10, AFM 35-13.

AFM 35-13 specifies that "When a Rated Officer Fails To Accomplish a Medical Examination Prescribed by AFM .(1) The local commander ... will direct an investigation ... (2) will forward the report along with the command recommendation to USAFMPC/DPMAJD, Randolph AFB TX 78148 for final determination."

Bush claims he released all his military records. If that's true, where are the results of the official investigation and the follow-up report listed in the order above?

Over time at least three different stories have emerged from the Bush camp as to why he was suspended. At one point he said he did not take the physical because he was in Alabama and his personal physician was in Houston. But the Boston Globe quickly put that notion to rest when it reported that "flight physicals can be administered only by certified Air Force flight surgeons, and some were assigned at the time to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, where Bush was living."

On another date his people told the London Times that he didn't have to take an exam, "As he was not flying, there was no reason for him to take the flight physical exam."

Then Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett told reporters that Bush was aware that he would be suspended, but that he had no choice because his paperwork hadn't caught up with him in Alabama. "It was just a question of following the bureaucratic procedure of the time," Bartlett said. "He knew the suspension would have to take place."

So which is it? That (a) his family physician wasn't in Alabama, or (b) he didn't have to take the exam because he wasn't flying, or (c) that the suspension was caused by a bureaucratic mix-up of paperwork?

Bush himself gave yet another bogus reason. He claimed the plane he trained on was no longer in use. This was a blatant lie. Bush's Texas unit continued to fly the F-102 until 1974. One of his Texas commanders, Retired Major Bobby Hodges, is quoted as saying: "If he had come back to Houston, I would have kept him flying the 102 until he got out, but I don't remember him coming back at all."

Two retired Guard generals told the Boston Globe that it was almost unheard of for a military pilot to miss a flight physical and not be investigated. "There is no excuse for that. Aviators just don't miss their flight physicals," said Major General Paul Weaver, who retired as director of the Air National Guard in 2002.

Brigadier General David McGinnis said that "Failure to take your flight physical is like a failure to show up for duty. It is an obligation you can't blow off," and that regulations would have required an investigation of the matter.

McGinnis surmised that Bush's superiors may have viewed him as a liability, and decided "to get him off the books, make his father happy, and hope no one would notice." But he said there still should have been a report. "If it didn't happen, that shows how far they were willing to stretch the rules to accommodate" then Lt Bush.

The documents released contain no record of any such inquiry. Its perfectly clear that the rules were stretched to accommodate Bush from the minute he decided to join the Guard in order to dodge the draft.

Any suggestion that Bush could simply decide to quit flying, with two years remaining on his commitment, after a quarter of a million dollars was invested in his training, is absurd. Bush signed a pledge to fly for at least five years after he completed his training to ensure that the tax dollars would be well-spent. He grossly violated that pledge.

Bush has never satisfactorily explained why he failed to show up for duty at the Dannelly Base in Alabama or what he was up to while he was AWOL for five months.

During the 2000 campaign, when asked about Dannelly, Bush said, "I was there on a temporary assignment and fulfilled my weekends at one period of time ... I made up some missed weekends ... I can't remember what I did, but I wasn't flying because they didn't have the same airplanes. I fulfilled my obligations."

Dan Bartlett, his spokesman at the time, said, "He specifically recalls pulling duty in Alabama, he did his drills."

The official records don't support their versions of events.

In fact, the records show that on September 15, 1972, Bush received a direct order to report for duty at Dannelly. The order said: "Lt Bush should report to Lt. Col. William Turnipseed, DCO, to perform equivalent training," on 7-8 October, and 4-5 November. Bush apparently ignored the order because he never showed up.

Dannelly Unit commander, Retired General William Turnipseed, and his administrative officer, Kenneth Lott, both say Bush was not there. ''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 a 1st Lt from Texas, I would have remembered."

But Bush, being the pathological liar that he is, goes right on saying he served in Alabama. When asked about General Turnipseed's statements, he said, "I read the comments from the guy who said he doesn't remember me being there, but I remember being there."

If is memory is so good, then why can't he remember a single name out of the 700 guard members he served with at Dannelly? And why hasn't a single guy come forward to say he served with Bush?

The records prove that Bush's superiors in Texas thought he was in Alabama. Officers Jerry Killian and William Harris said so in his yearly evaluation: "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of report," and 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." He wasn't in Texas and he wasn't in Alabama. So where was he?

In 1998, Bush hired Col. Albert Lloyd to review his Guard records. Since then, Lloyd himself has said the record should include evidence of his service in Alabama. "If he did, his drill attendance should have been certified and sent to Ellington, and there would have been a record," he said. No such attendance record exists.

Bush now claims he can prove he attended one drill on Nov. 29, 1972. However, the document used to support this claim is highly suspect. It is undated, unsigned, and doesn't even have Bush's name on it. It was "discovered" by Lloyd in 1998 and somehow got added to the official record. There are also two versions of it. The one discovered by Lloyd has handwritten notations on it, while the one obtained from Bush's records does not. It's hardly conclusive proof of Bush's whereabouts on one day in the year in question.

On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence to prove Bush wasn't at Dannelly. Most interesting are interviews with two actual members of the Alabama unit. According to a February 13, 2004 article in the Memphis Flyer, Bob Mintz and Paul Bishop attended regular drills in 1972 and they are both absolutely certain that Bush was not there.

Mintz told the reporter, "I remember that I heard someone was coming to drill with us from Texas. And it was implied that it was somebody with political influence. I was a young bachelor then. I was looking for somebody to prowl around with."

When he didn't show, Mintz thought Bush had "changed his mind and went somewhere else" to do his duty. His assumption was wrong. In campaign 2000, Bush was referring to Mintz's unit, and so far he's sticking to the same story in 2004.

Mintz talked about his "negative reaction" to Bush's dishonesty. "You don't do that as an officer, you don't do that as a pilot, you don't do it as an important person, and you don't do it as a citizen. This guy's got a lot of nerve," he said.

Mintz says there were only 25 or 30 pilots at the unit, "There's no doubt. I would have heard of him, seen him, whatever," he said. "And if he did any flying at all, on whatever kind of craft, that would have involved a great number of supportive personnel. It takes a lot of people to get a plane into the air. But nobody I can think of remembers him," said Mintz.

Mintz said he "talked to one of my buddies the other day and asked him if he could remember Bush at drill at any time, and he said, 'Naw, ol' George wasn't there.'"

Mintz's buddy is Paul Bishop. He voted for Bush in 2000, but is now upset about Bush saying he served in Alabama. "I never saw hide nor hair of Mr. Bush," said Bishop.

Bishop said he didn't pay much attention to Bush's lies during campaign 2000, but he does now since the war in Iraq started. "It bothered me that he wouldn't 'fess up and say, Okay, guys, I cut out when the rest of you did your time. He shouldn't have tried to dance around the subject. I take great exception to that. I spent 39 years defending my country," he said.

How will Bush's dishonesty play out in election 2004? Not too well if the opinions of Mintz and Bishop are any indication. Both were asked who they planned to vote for. Will Bishop vote for Bush? "Naw, this goes to an integrity issue," he says. And, who will Mintz be voting for? "Not for any Texas politicians," he says.

The latest stunt in the campaign to smear Kerry's war record comes from a group of guys who call themselves, "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. " They recently held a public news conference at which they attacked Kerry's status as a war hero, questioned the legitimacy of his combat wounds, and claimed his antiwar activities ought to disqualify him from becoming President. The founder and co-chairman of the group is John O'Neill.

Bush's campaign chairman, Marc Racicot, says: "Neither the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign nor the RNC have coordinated or participated in the planning of this news conference." O'Neill also denied any affiliation with the Bush camp.

Yeah right, there's no connection whatsoever. O'Neill organized the group with the help of Merrie Spaeth, who in 2000 just happened to be a spokeswoman for a group that spent $2 million on ads attacking John McCain's record when he ran against Bush.

In addition to being a generous contributor to both of Bush's presidential campaigns, Merrie is listed on the White House web site as one of the "prominent public and private sector leaders who are alumni of the White House Fellows Program from Texas." Texas investor Sam Wylie is a director of the group. He also has contributed the maximum amount permitted to the RNC and the Bush's campaign.

Golly gee, I don't know why in the world anyone would link this group to the Bush campaign.

The group attacked Kerry's war record in Vietnam and O'Neill claimed he was awarded a purple heart for a self-inflicted wound that was "trivial" and "insignificant." "I have very serious questions based on talking to people who were involved in those incidents," O'Neill said. "It was fraudulently reported and used as the basis for leaving Vietnam early," he said.

During the news conference, the group read a document written by a doctor, Louis Letson (also a member of the group) who said he treated a wound for Kerry in 1968. Letson said that "Some of his (Kerry's) crew confided that they did not receive any fire from shore, but that Kerry had fired a mortar round at close range to some rocks on shore," and, "The crewman thought that the injury was caused by a fragment ricocheting from that mortar round when it struck the rocks. That seemed to fit the injury which I treated."

Oh sure, now I get it. In the dead of night, Kerry knew how to fire a mortar round toward the shore in a way that would make it ricochet off a rock and send a fragment of shrapnel back to the boat to land in Kerry's arm. And even though this brilliant feat took place in the dark, Kerry figured out a way to make sure that the shrapnel would hit him just right without hurting him too seriously. Wow! I wonder if Kerry's real name is "Houdini."

One member of the group, Steve Gardner, served under Kerry. He claims Kerry was indecisive in combat. "If a man like that can't handle that six-man boat, how can you expect him to be our commander in chief?" asked Gardner.

Since Kerry won five medals for bravery I'm not too concerned about Gardner's opinion of whether Kerry can handle a boat. The real question that needs to be answered is how did a draft-dodging coward, who went AWOL for five months in a time of war, and who couldn't sober up long enough to take a physical once a year, end up commander-in-chief?

David Wade, served with Kerry in Vietnam. He describes the statements by the group as "a false, lying smear campaign against a decorated combat veteran," and added, "This is the ugly face of the Bush attack machine questioning John Kerry's patriotism."

Kerry's favorable evaluations are out there for anyone who wants to read them. They contradict the allegations made by the group. One commander wrote: "In a combat environment often requiring independent, decisive action, Lt. j.g. Kerry was unsurpassed." The citation for his Bronze Star praises his "calmness, professionalism and great personal courage under fire."

His heroic actions were described in the Silver Star citation, "With utter disregard for his own safety and the enemy rockets," the citation says, "again ordered a charge on the enemy, beached his boat only 10 feet from the Viet Cong rocket position and personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the of the enemy. ... The extraordinary daring and personal courage of Lt. Kerry attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire were responsible for the highly successful mission."

The Republican band of chickenhawks have a lot of nerve attacking Kerry's service to his country. Wade Sanders gave his opinion of their attacks at a follow-up news conference, "I think it's going to sicken and repulse the vast majority of the American people," and the criticism would "backfire on this president and this vice president."

Wade is right. This latest stunt guarantees that Bush's records, and Cheney's five deferments, will be front line issues for the rest of the campaign. They could have told the group to knock it off, but chose not to. So now its open season on the military service records from here on in.

The Vet's demanded that Kerry release more records. I find this demand laughable being the Pentagon says it is under strict orders not to discuss anything about Bush's records, and FOIA Officers say they are under orders from the Pentagon to ignore all requests. And on top of all that, Officials from the National Guard Bureau, now headed by a Bush appointee from Texas, said they are under orders to not answer any questions.

The bureau's historian, Charles Gross, said 'If it has to do with George W. Bush, the Texas Air National Guard or the Vietnam War, I can't talk with you." FOIA officer, Rose Bird, said she stopped accepting requests in February and directs them to the Pentagon. But the Pentagon records coordinator, James Hogan, said senior Defense Department officials have directed the Bureau to not respond to questions about Bush's records.

You know, I am really worried about the number of agencies involved in guarding Bush's records. I wonder if we have enough employees left over to guard Fort Knox.

Come November, the voters will decide which candidate they trust to lead the country in a time of war. A war hero who was awarded five medals for bravery, or an AWOL deserter who failed to show up for duty for over five months, in a time of war.

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