Thursday, September 09, 2004

New holes in Bush military record

In 1968, Papa Bush pinned
lieutenant bars on his son,
who suited up to fly for
the Air National Guard

NY Daily News
September 9, 2004

New holes in Bush military record


The Bush campaign was rocked yesterday by allegations that the Top Gun President was a substandard pilot who disobeyed a direct order while serving in the Texas Air National Guard.

President Bush's commanding officer complained of being pressured to "sugarcoat" Bush's review despite his "failure to perform" to Guard standards and that Bush "made no attempt" to maintain his flight status.

The picture of a privileged pilot getting preferential treatment at the height of the Vietnam War was the latest salvo in a political campaign where character and what happened 35 years ago have become an issue.

A battery of new documents obtained by CBS' "60 Minutes" and the Boston Globe allege that Bush:

# Escaped service in Vietnam because a Texas oilman pulled strings to get him into the Guard.

# Disobeyed a direct order to get a physical.

# Discussed how to skip drills for five months because he would be "too busy" working on a political campaign.

# Failed to fulfill a pledge to join a Massachusetts Guard unit when he moved to Boston.

The fresh charges came as the campaigns of Bush and John Kerry traded ugly accusations and questioned the honor of the candidates during the Vietnam quagmire.

Col. Jerry Killian, who was Bush's commander at Ellington Air Force Base, wrote that Col. Buck Staudt, a Bush family supporter and the head of the Texas Air National Guard, put the squeeze on him to go easy on Bush.

"I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job," Killian wrote in a 1973 memo obtained by CBS.

But Killian would not budge and his memos reveal why he clipped Bush's wings on Aug. 1, 1972.

"On this date, I ordered that 1st Lieutenant Bush be suspended not just for failing to take a physical, but for failing to perform to U-S Air Force/Texas Air National Guard standards."

Killian then added: "Bush has made no attempt to meet his training certification or flight physical."

The White House did not question the veracity of the Killian memos, but spokesman Dan Bartlett insisted again that Bush "served honorably and was honorably discharged" and said the new allegations "smacks of dirty politics."

"For anybody to try to interpret or presume they know what somebody who is now dead was thinking in any of these memos, I think, is very difficult to do," Bartlett said of Killian, who died in 1984.

Staudt could not be reached for comment.

Democratic National Committee head Terry McAuliffe said the memos prove that Bush "did not serve honorably."

"George W. Bush's cover story on his National Guard service is rapidly unraveling," McAuliffe said.

"According to these new military documents, political pressure was applied and strings were pulled for President Bush at every step of the process: to get in the Guard, to stay in the Guard, and to exit the Guard," he said.

The Democrats are trying to turn the tables on Bush and subject his record to the same kind of intense scrutiny that Kerry's service in Vietnam has come under.

Devastating commercials by a pro-Bush group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have undermined Kerry's war-hero image and eroded his standing in the polls.

Kerry, who volunteered to serve in Vietnam, also got some ammunition when the Boston Globe revisited Bush's National Guard records and concluded he fell "well short of meeting his military obligation."

Before leaving Houston to attend Harvard Business School, Bush signed a document in July 1973 vowing to transfer to a Boston-area Air Force reserve unit or face possible deployment to Vietnam. But the Globe found no evidence Bush ever did so.

Last night, the Democrats' claims that Bush used family connections to get into the Guard were buttressed by a "60 Minutes" interview with former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes.

Bush has denied that his father, who was a Texas congressman at the time, pulled strings to save him from going to Vietnam.

Barnes, a Democrat, said he was approached by the late Houston businessman Sidney Adger, a close friend of the Bush family, for help in getting Bush into the Guard.

"Oh, I would describe it as preferential treatment," Barnes said. " I'm not necessarily proud of that ... I thought that's what people should do when you're in office: You help rich people."

Earlier, a pro-Kerry group called Texans for Truth, unveiled a TV ad that questions Bush's attendance in the Alabama Air National Guard in 1972, after he transferred from Texas.

"I can't say he didn't do his duties, but I can say for sure I was there and I never met George Bush," says Bob Mintz, a lieutenant colonel in the 30-member unit when Bush was supposed to have been there. "You just can't come and go in a unit that small and not be noticed by someone."

Bush backers led by former Sen. Bob Dole fired back by unveiling a new anti-Kerry documentary called "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal."

In it, former Vietnam POWs Ken Courdier and Paul Galanti claim their captors used Kerry's anti-war statements against them. Courdier also appeared in the Swift Boat ads.

But in a Washington Post interview last month, ex-POW Phil Butler said Courdier and Galanti were "full of it." "We never heard a blooming thing about John Kerry while we were there," he said.

With James Gordon Meek