10
Feb
04

Trying to Quell Issue, White House Releases Guard Documents

Trying to Quell Issue, White House Releases Guard Documents

By DAVID STOUT

Published: February 10, 2004

ASHINGTON, Feb. 10 � Hoping to quell a controversy before it mushrooms into a full-blown election-year issue, the White House released documents today that it said proved that President Bush honorably completed National Guard service during the Vietnam War era.

“These documents clearly show that the President fulfilled his duties,” Mr. Bush’s spokesman, Scott McClellan, said as the White House distributed copies of military payroll records attesting that he was paid for service between the spring of 1972 and the spring of 1973.

But Mr. McClellan was peppered with questions about things that the records did not show. He was asked, for instance, why the White House had not brought forth “comrades in arms” of Mr. Bush to offer reminiscences of their service together in the Air National Guard.

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Mr. McClellan said, as he did repeatedly, that the documents speak for themselves and prove that Mr. Bush fulfilled his duties.

“I wasn’t talking about documents,” a questioner said. “I was talking about people.”

Mr. McClellan said some people were unscrupulously trying to make Mr. Bush’s military service a political issue with “outrageous, baseless accusations.” Some Democrats have alluded to Mr. Bush’s military service � which, like that of millions of other men at that time, was stateside and routine � and contrasted it with the Vietnam valor of Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Mr. Bush enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard in 1968, just before graduating from Yale. The period from May 1972 to May 1973 has come under scrutiny, because during that time he moved to Alabama to work on a senatorial campaign.

No records yet produced have satisfied Mr. Bush’s critics on how many meetings he attended, either with the Alabama unit to which he was temporarily transferred or with the Houston unit to which he returned.

The predicament for Mr. Bush and his advisers was underlined today when a questioner noted that a National Guard officer in Houston wrote some years ago that Mr. Bush “has not been observed” at the unit.

That officer has since died. As for the absence of people to attest to serving with Mr. Bush, Mr. McClellan said, “We’re talking some 30 years ago.”

The records released today � some of them smudged and hard to read � showed that Mr. Bush was not paid for National Guard service from December 1972 to February or March 1973, a time in which Mr. Bush lost his active-flight status.

“Where was he in December of ’72, February and March of ’73?” a questioner persisted. “Why didn’t he fulfill the medical requirement to remain on active flight duty status in 1972?”

“The president recalls serving both when he was in Texas and when he was in Alabama,” Mr. McClellan said. “And that is what I can tell you. And we have provided you these documents that show clearly that the president of the United States fulfilled his duties, and that is the reason that he was honorably discharged from the National Guard. The president was proud of his service.”

The White House seemed to find itself in a situation that is the reverse of what often occurs during Washington controversies: It was offering a legalistic, document-oriented defense when it was being asked to present an anecdotal, people-oriented one.

Mr. Bush offered a strong defense of his military service in an interview last weekend with Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” asserting that he had had a satisfactory meeting-attendance record “or I wouldn’t have been honorably discharged.”

Schedules varied in National Guard and Reserve units in that era. A typical schedule called for two evening meetings of four hours each, plus one all-day meeting, often on a Sunday, each month. In addition, a unit attended a two-week summer camp at an active military post. A unit member who missed more than a few meetings in a year faced the prospect of being called to active duty.

At the height of the Vietnam War, after public support for the campaign waned, college graduates often sought hard-to-get slots in Reserve or Guard units, rather than risk being sent to Vietnam. There were also instances of professional athletes being admitted to Guard and Reserve units amid public suspicion that they, as well as sons of privileged and well-connected families, jumped over others on the waiting lists.

Indeed, Mr. Kerry was much less typical, volunteering for military service after graduation from Yale and later seeing combat in Vietnam. President Bush’s homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, was another Ivy Leaguer who fought and was wounded in Vietnam.

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