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New Evidence Supports Bush Military Service (Mostly)

Newly released records reflect payments and credits for Air National Guard service meeting minimum requirements, despite a six-month gap.

February 11, 2004

Modified: February 15, 2004

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Summary

 

With Democrats openly accusing President Bush of being "AWOL" from his Air National Guard service during the 1970's, the White House released personnel and payroll records showing Bush was paid and credited for service during the period in question. And despite a six-month gap in service while working on a Senate campaign in Alabama, Air Force Reserve records show Bush was credited with enough points to meet his requirements for that year -- barely.

Analysis

 

The controversy over President Bush's military record has been heating up since Michael Moore called President Bush a "deserter," (see our earlier article ). 

Democrats Make "AWOL" Allegation a Campaign Issue

Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe repeatedly accused the President of being “AWOL” in nationally televised interviews.

On Fox News, January 21:

McAuliffe: George Bush never showed up. He was AWOL from the Alabama National Guard. He didn't fight in any battles and General Clark did. So I will put General Clark up against George Bush any day of the week.

And on ABC "This Week" February 1:

McAuliffe: I look forward to that debate when John Kerry, a war hero with a chest full of medals, is standing next to George Bush, a man who was AWOL in the Alabama National Guard. George Bush never served in our military and our country. He didn't show up when he should have showed up.

President Bush defended his service in another nationally television interview, on NBC's "Meet the Press" Feb.  8:

Tim Russert: The Boston Globe and The Associated Press have gone through some of the records and said there’s no evidence that you reported to duty in Alabama during the summer and fall of 1972.

Bush:  Yeah, they’re — they're just wrong.  There may be no evidence, but I did report; otherwise, I wouldn't have been honorably discharged.  In other words, you don't just say "I did something" without there being verification.  Military doesn't work that way.  I got an honorable discharge, and I did show up in Alabama.

Russert: You did — were allowed to leave eight months before your term expired.  Was there a reason?

Bush:  Right.  Well, I was going to Harvard Business School and worked it out with the military.

Immediately after Bush's appearance John Kerry said Bush’s honorable discharge does not settle the question of whether he skipped Air National Guard drills when he was supposed to. "Just because you get an honorable discharge does not in fact answer that question,'' Kerry told reporters.

In the NBC Interview Bush pledged to release any records that would clear up the matter:

Russert:  But you would allow pay stubs, tax records, anything to show that you were serving during that period?

Bush:  Yeah.  If we still have them, but I — you know, the records are kept in Colorado, as I understand, and they scoured the records. 

And I'm just telling you, I did my duty. . . .

Russert:  But you authorize the release of everything to settle this?

Bush:  Yes, absolutely.

On February 10 Boston Globe reporter Walter V. Robinson -- who first reported four years ago that there was a year-long gap in Bush's record of National Guard service -- reported he had obtained two new documents that partially filled in that gap: "The personnel records. . . . constitute the first evidence that Bush appeared for any duty during the first 11 months of that 12-month period. Bush is recorded as having served the minimum number of days expected of Guard members in that 12 months of service time."

Later that same day the the White House released copies of those documents and others, including payroll records showing Bush had been paid for several drills during the period and was credited with meeting military point requirements for the 12-month period in question.

The White House said it had obtained all the documents from the Air Force Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver, Colorado, and had not known some of them existed until Bush aides inquired after the President promised in his NBC interview to release whatever is available.

What the records show

The records show that National Guard officials credited Bush with enough points to meet minimum requirements for the 12-month period ending May 26, 1973, the period of the original alleged "gap" in his records.  An Air Force "Reserve Personnel Record Card" shows Bush received a total of 9 points for active duty training, 31 points for inactive duty training, and 15 points awarded for his membership in the reserves. The points total 56, exceeding the 50-point requirement for satisfactory service during the period, though barely.

Other documents include one-page Air Force Reserve summaries of points earned in the 12-month period ending in May 1973, and the subsequent period running through Bush's last credited service in July 1973. (See "supporting documents").

Also released were copies of microfilm payroll records summarizing the days for which Bush was paid in 1972 and 1973. Though blurry and hard to read, they reflect payments for 82 days of services in 1972 and 1973.

Also released was a memo the White House requested from Retired Lieutenant Colonel Albert. C. Lloyd Jr., a former personnel director for the Texas Air Guard during the time of Bush's service. Lloyd said of the payroll and personnel records, "This clearly shows that 1LT George W. Bush has satisfactory years for both 72-72 and 73-74 which proves that he completed his military obligation in a satisfactory manner."

Lloyd was later interviewed by the Boston Globe , which questioned whether Bush had met "minimum training" requirements in addition to "minimum retirement" credits. The newspaper said Guardsman are required to serve 15 days of active duty to meet training requirements. The Globe quoted Lloyd as saying of Bush: " Should he have done more? Yes, he should have. Did he have to? No."

The records also show that Bush was credited with very little service during the period when he was in Alabama working on the unsuccessful 1972 Senate campaign of Republican Winton Blunt. Bush was paid and also got retirement credit for 30 days in the first four months of 1972, through April 16. But then begins a six-month gap.

During those six months Bush got permission from his National Guard superiors to attend non-flying drills in Montgomery. Also during that time he was officially grounded after he failed to take an annual physical examination required to maintain flying status. But the records show Bush received no pay or credits between April 16 and late October.

The Boston Globe reported Feb. 12 that Bush’s suspension from flight duty while he was in Alabama “should have prompted an investigation by his commander” in Houston under Air Force regulations in effect at the time. The Globe also said “It is unclear whether Bush's commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, ordered any inquiry, as required.” Killian is deceased.

Guard Service in Alabama?

The records show Bush was paid and credited for drills on October 28 and 29, just days before the 1972 election. The records don't show where the service was performed, but this would have been toward the end of his time in Alabama. Bush was also paid and credited for four days November 11-14, 1972, around the time his aides say Bush was in Alabama briefly following the election.

That tends to support Bush's statement that he did perform duty in Alabama, though it falls short of conclusive proof.

The commander to whom Bush was supposed to report, retired Brigadier General William Turnipseed, said four years ago that he had no recollection of Bush appearing at his unit. But Turnipseed recently backed off that statement a bit, according to the a Washington Post story on February 4. Turnipseed said "he could not recall if he had been on base much at that time," the Post reported.

And after records were released, The Washington Times reported that a woman who had dated Bush during the summer of 1972,  Emily Marks Curtis, says she "distinctly remembers" Bush returning to Montgomery after the election to fulfill his Air National Guard commitment. "I can say categorically he was there, and that's why he came back," the Times quoted her as saying. She added that Bush rented an apartment for a two-week stay and that she met him for dinner several times. While she did not claim to have witnessed him doing Guard duty, according to the Times she said, "He told me that was why he was in Montgomery. There is no other reason why he would come back to Montgomery."

And in fact, Bush was at Dannelly Air National Guard base in Montgomery as late as Jan. 6, 1973, according to a document released by the White House Feb. 11. The document is a record of a dental examination of Bush on that date. The payroll records released two days earlier show Bush received pay and credit for service for Jan. 6 and for five other days closely clustered between Jan. 4 and Jan. 10.

On Feb. 13, the White House released hundreds of additional pages from Bush’s military records. Nothing in those files, however, provided any further documentation of Bush’s presence at Donnelly Air National Guard Base in Alabama beyond the single dental examination record.

An additional witness came forward to say that he had seen Bush at the base. John W. “Bill” Calhoun was quoted by the Washington Post and others as saying he saw Bush sign in at the base eight to 10 times for about eight hours each from May to October 1972. However, as previously noted, there is record of Bush being paid for only two days of Guard service during that period, Oct. 28 and 29 1972. A White House spokesman could not offer an explanation for the discrepancy.

"Not Observed" in Houston?

The newly released records show only sporadic service by Bush during the months immediately following the 1972 election. They show pay and credits for six days in January 1973 and two in April.

It was the following month that his two superior officers at Ellington Air Force Base wrote that they could not complete Bush’s annual evaluation covering the 12 months ending April 30, 1973 because "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of this report.” How could Bush be paid and credited for drills and still not be “observed” by his superiors? Both of them are now dead and can't answer that. White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett says Bush was doing "odd jobs" for the Guard at the time in a non-flying capacity and his superiors might not have been aware of that.

Also, the newly released dental record now suggests that Bush was still performing duty in Alabama, not Houston, as late as January. It is not clear where his two days of service in April, 1973 were performed, but if they were in Houston they would be the only two days of service there in the period covered by the report saying he was "not observed." 

The records do show a flurry of activity by Bush in May, June and July, 1973, as Bush was applying for an early release from the Guard in order to attend the Harvard Business School. In those three months Bush got credit for 38 days of service, more than he got for all of 1972. His last recorded day was July 30, 1973. He was released from service with an honorable discharge eight months before the end of the six-year term of service for which he had originally signed up.

The Reaction

Release of the payroll and personnel summaries didn't quiet all the President's critics. DNC chairman McAuliffe said, ''The handful of documents released today by the White House creates more questions than answers.'' But Kerry himself said he had no comment.  "It's not an issue that I chose to create," he told reporters at Dulles airport in Washington. "It's not my record that's at issue, and I don't have any questions about it."

There were these other developments:

The Boston Globe reported Feb. 12 that Bush’s suspension from flight duty while he was in Alabama “should have prompted an investigation by his commander” in Houston under Air Force regulations in effect at the time. The Globe also said “It is unclear whether Bush's commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, ordered any inquiry, as required.” Killian is deceased.

The Dallas Morning News reported Feb. 12 an allegation that Bush documents were discarded in 1997. The News said a retired Guard Lieutenant Colonel, Bill Burkett, said that in 1997 he overheard then-Gov. Bush's chief of staff, Joe Allbaugh, tell the chief of the National Guard to get the Bush file and make certain "there's not anything there that will embarrass the governor."  The newspaper quoted Burkett as saying that a few days later he saw Mr. Bush's file and documents from it discarded in a trash can, and that he recognized the documents as retirement point summaries and pay forms.

The trash-can allegation is puzzling because the type of documents alleged to be discarded are the same type of documents that the White House produced Feb. 10 after receiving copies from and Air Force Reserve storage facility in Denver, and which the White House now cites as proof of Bush’s service.

The New York Times also quoted Burkett Feb. 12 as saying he overheard Bush aides requesting a review of Bush’s personnel files in 1997, but the Times did not report any allegation from Burkett that documents had been discarded. Both the Times and Dallas Morning News reported denials from various Guard officials and Bush aides that any documents had been destroyed.

On Feb. 13, moreover, the Boston Globe reported that Burkett’s account is contradicted by a key witness, a friend of Burkett who was present at the time and place Burkett claims to have seen documents discarded.

The Globe reported:

But a key witness to some of the events described by Burkett has told the Globe that the central elements of his story are false.

George O. Conn, a former chief warrant officer with the Guard and a friend of Burkett's, is the person whom Burkett says led him to the room where the Bush records were being vetted. But Conn says he never saw anyone combing through the Bush file or discarding records.

"I have no recall of that," Conn said. "I have no recall of that whatsoever. None. Zip. Nada."

Sources

 

Ron Fournier, “ Kerry Raises Questions About Bush Service,The Associated Press 8 Feb. 2004.

Interview with Terry McAuliffe “The Big Story With John Gibson” Fox News Network 21 Jan. 2004.

Interview with Terry McAuliffe “This Week” ABC News 1 Feb. 2004.

Walter V. Robinson, “ 1-year gap in Bush’s guard duty : No record of airman at drills in 1972-73,” Boston Globe 5 May 2000: A1.

Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff “ Bush Credited For Guard Drills But Time Frame Leaves Questions,” Boston Globe 10 Feb. 2004: A1.

Walter V. Robinson and Michael Rezendes, “ White House releases Bush’s Guard Records ,” Boston Globe 11 Feb. 2004: A1.

Mike Allen, “Bush's Military Record Defended; Aides Respond to Questions Spurred by Lack of Documentation,” Washington Post 4 Feb. 2004: A5.

Rowan Scarborough, “Bush's drills with the Alabama Guard confirmed,” The Washington Times 11 Feb. 2004.

Walter V. Robinson and Francie Latour, “Bush’s loss of flying status should have spurred probe,” Boston Globe 12 Feb. 2004.

Wayne Slater And Michelle Mittelstadt, “Aides say records show Bush served: Retired Guard officer says he saw some files discarded in trash,” The Dallas Morning News 12 Feb. 2004: A1.

Ralph Blumenthal, Move to Screen Bush File in 90's Is Reported,” New York Times 12 Feb. 2004.

Michael Rezendes, “Doubts raised on Bush accuser ; Key witness disputes charge by Guard retiree that files were purged” Boston Globe 13 Feb 2004 : A1.

Manuel Roig-Franzia and Louis Romano, “Few can offer confirmation of Bush’s Guard service: Friends and acquaintances lack firsthand knowledge” Washington Post 15 Feb. 2004: A1.

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