June 5, 2003
Bottom Gun: Presidential Draft Dodger George W. Bush
SPECIAL GUEST COMMENTARY
President George W. Bush is a draft dodger. And his cowardice is the worst kind. Mr. Bush avoided both combat and making any kind of political statement on the War in Vietnam. While others served, giving their lives and limbs, or took part in a protest movement to end the war, the president's family connections got him a safe spot in the Texas Air National Guard. This is not the profile of a leader.
In 1994, during his first run for Governor of Texas, I was a panelist on a televised debate between Mr. Bush and Ann Richards. I was the first person in his life to ask him how he got into the National Guard so easily when there were more than 100,000 young men on waiting lists around the country. Mr. Bush said there was a shortage of pilots and he was willing to make the six year training commitment that others were not.
That is not true. There was no shortage. And when he got one of the coveted spots, Mr. Bush failed to honor his commitment.
Sgt. Donald Barnhart of the Texas Guard said there was a waiting list of 150 names for Bush's unit and a minimum of 18 months passed before an applicant was moved to the top. Historian for the Texas Air National Guard, Tom Hall, reported Bush's Houston air wing was authorized for 29 pilots and had 27. But two replacements were already in training and another pilot was awaiting transfer. There was no shortage.
But there were family connections.
In a deposition for an unrelated lawsuit, former Texas House Speaker Ben Barnes said he took a call from Bush family friend Sid Adger, a Houston businessman, asking for the favor of moving Bush up on the Guard's waiting list. Barnes said he called General James Rose, commanding officer of the Guard, and the request was granted. Adger was one of former President Bush's oldest and closest friends. A spokesman said the first President Bush "loved" Mr. Adger.
The son of then Congressman George H. W. Bush joined an Air Guard
Immediately after basic training, Bush got a direct appointment to Second Lieutenant, circumventing a rigorous qualification process, which normally involved Officer Candidate School. Charles Shoemake, who retired from the Texas Guard as a full colonel, said such appointments were rare, hard to get, and required extensive credentials. "I went from master sergeant to first lieutenant based on my three years in college and 15 years as a non-commissioned officer," he said. "Then I got considered for a direct appointment."
During his answer to my debate question in 1994, Mr. Bush said he could have been called up for duty in Vietnam. He had to know that was not true, either. On his Guard application, the future president checked a box saying he did "not" want to be considered for overseas deployment. Additionally, he was hundreds of hours short of flight time required for foreign duty, and the aircraft he flew, the F-102 was no longer being used in Southeast Asia.
After being rejected once, Mr. Bush reapplied and was granted a transfer to a Guard unit in Montgomery, Alabama. But he never showed up for duty. Instead, he spent his days working on a U.S. Senate campaign for a family friend. During his own presidential campaign, Mr. Bush's staff showed reporters a tattered piece of paper, missing a last name, as proof he reported for duty in Alabama. But both the CO of the Alabama unit, and his administrative officer, said they have no record or memory of Mr. Bush showing up. Not one of the approximately 700 men in the Alabama unit has ever stepped forward to say they remember Mr. Bush serving with them.
"Had he reported in, I would have had some recall, and I do not," Commander William Turnipseed said. "If we had a first lieutenant from Texas, I would have remembered."
Nonetheless, Mr. Bush maintained his flight status until 1972, when
he failed to show up for a required physical. His campaign initially
said he did not return to Houston because his family physician was
unavailable to conduct the physical. When it was made clear such exams
are given by military doctors, the campaign then explained that Mr.
Bush did not take the physical because he had "decided" he would no
longer fly. This is a unique approach to military service when the
enlistee gets to "decide" his future duties.
Mr. Bush was grounded, his flight status revoked, and a punishment order was signed posting him to civilian duty in Denver. No evidence has ever been presented that he showed up there, either.
As the presidential campaign planning began in Texas, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett of the Texas Guard said he overheard orders from the Governor's office to "scrub" Mr. Bush's records. Burkett said he listened as Joe Allbaugh and Dan Bartlett, both of whom went to Washington with the president, told Major General Daniel James, commander of the Texas Guard, to "make sure there is nothing embarrassing in the governor's file." Burkett, who was chief advisor to General James, also said he was present when the records were surrendered for scrubbing.
After he took office, Commander in Chief George W. Bush promoted Daniel James to CO of the U.S. National Guard in Washington.
And now, by stepping into a flight uniform and appearing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, the president has insulted the men and women who served honorably in Iraq, and the more than 58 thousand heroes whose names are etched into black granite in Washington, and the surviving Vietnam Vets.
Since Mr. Bush seems oblivious, perhaps it is our duty, as citizens, to be ashamed for him. We are also obligated to ask, "Who fought in your place, Mr. President?"
BUZZFLASH SPECIAL GUEST COMMENTARY
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