Was Bush AWOL from the National Guard during Vietnam? THE COMPLETE DOCUMENTED REPORT
Was Bush AWOL from the National Guard during Vietnam?
Mark Levine has examined documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act to answer this question. His analysis of the evidence, complete with web-links to the documents, is below. He reports; you decide.
Mark Levine interviewed First Lieutenant Robert A. Rogers, the former fighter pilot in the Air National Guard who analyzed these records in this 2000 report, on THE INSIDE SCOOP on Sunday, February 8.
Click here for the more recent (Feb. 10, 2004) op-ed by Mark Levine where he challenges the media to focus on why Bush quit his job as a pilot, disobeying the National Guard order to take a medical examination including a drug test, click here or scroll down to the end of the page.
Click here for an astonishing exchange between veteran reporter Helen Thomas and Bush press secretary Scott McClellan where McClellan refuses to answer Thomas’s question as to whether Bush’s community service in 1973 was court ordered (due to rumors of a cocaine charge).
Was George Bush AWOL from the Texas and Alabama National Guards?
I. The Media Inquiry (and Lack of Media Inquiry)
In 1992, the media inaccurately reported that Bill Clinton was a “draft dodger,” even though Bill Clinton — though certainly not anxious to serve in a war he thought was a terrible mistake — was available to be drafted and never was. In 2000, there were 13,641 news stories mentioning Bill Clinton’s “draft dodging” Vietnam but less than 50 news stories examining the substantial questions swirling around George W. Bush’s National Guard service. According to Lieutenant Robert A. Rogers, who shopped this story in 2000 to dozens of media outlets with National Guard documents in hand, most of the media refused to report on Bush’s “youthful indiscretion”: a clear double standard when compared to Clinton and Gore (who was reported as having tried marijuana while serving in Vietnam).
Even now, most of the mainstream media has declined to report on undisputed documentary evidence obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that show that during the Vietnam War (which Bush supported), George W. Bush received favoritism to get into the National Guard (at a time when 100,000 were on the waiting list), left his National Guard post without leave, violated two direct orders to return, was disciplined for refusing to take a physical exam including a drug test, and did not show up for at least one and probably two years of service. Bush’s “Chronological Listing of Service” makes clear he performed no duty from May 1972 until his service concluded in 1974. Bush’s suspension from the National Guard and his absence without leave occurred in 1972 and 1973 at a time when Bush is known to have had serious drug and alcohol problems. (Bush refuses to discuss his cocaine use prior to 1974 or confirm or deny that he was convicted of a drug crime during this time.)
At a New Hampshire rally, Michael Moore said (without elaboration) he wanted to see a debate between General Wesley Clark and George W. Bush –between the “general” and the “deserter.” ABC anchor Peter Jennings then challenged General Wesley Clark in the FOX News New Hampshire Debate to repudiate Michael Moore’s claim that Bush was a “deserter.” Jennings called it a “reckless charge not supported by the facts” (New Hampshire Debate Transcript) and asked Clark if “it would’ve been a better example of ethical behavior” for Clark to repudiate Moore. But Clark did not back down, saying the charge has been “bandied around a lot” but he did not know the specific facts about it. (New Hampshire Debate Transcript). Too bad Clark could not ask Peter Jennings himself, as Jennings has apparently never taken the time to examine these same facts that, according to Jennings, demand Clark’s immediate repudiation of the charge of desertion (The Daily Howler).
Since the debate, General Clark and Democrats have taken a lot of heat for not just agreeing with Jennings that the charge was “reckless.” Clark has been condemned repeatedly for saying that, while he probably would not have used the term “deserter,” he would have to examine the facts before he could say Moore’s claim was wholly without merit. See Fox News Commentary and Meet the Press.
Three days after the debate, on CNN Late Edition,Wolf Blitzer again raised the issue in an interview with Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe: “[When] General Clark refused to distance himself from that comment [that Bush was a “deserter”] right away, was that a huge blunder? You don’t believe that President Bush was a deserter, do you?”
But McAuliffe stood his ground: “I mean, I would call it AWOL. You call it whatever you want. But the issue is the president did not show up for the year he was in Alabama, when he was supposed to show up for the National Guard.”
Even today (February 5, 2004), the Washington Post’s editorial page still condemns General Clark for not criticizing Moore’s attack on Bush’s military record. Yet, the Post has not published the fact that unlike every other President and candidate for President of the United States (such as Gore, McCain, Kerry, and Clark), Bush is the only one to refuse to release his full service records. What is Bush trying to hide?
II. Special Favors for the Son of a Congressman
Bush graduated from college in 1968 during the height of the Vietnam War. One of the best ways to avoid the draft at that time was to join one of the State National Guards, where, nationwide, the wait-list numbered more than 100,000. George W. Bush’s father (who later became President) was a Texas Congressman at the time. George W. Bush’s grandfather had been a Connecticut Senator. Twelve days before graduating and being eligible for the draft, Bush applied to the Texas National Guard. He was sworn in on the same day he applied.
Bush denies getting any help. But, in a lawsuit over whether Texas House Speaker Ben Barnes was blackmailed to keep quiet on helping Bush, Barnes conceded under oath that Sidney Adger, a close friend of Bush’s father, had contacted Barnes to ask him to intervene on Bush’s behalf to place Bush in the “champagne unit” of the Texas National Guard. As a favor to Bush Sr., Barnes called Brigadier General James Rose, commander of the Texas National Guard, to request this special treatment for Bush.
Brigadier General Rose gave substantial favoritism to the Congressman’s son. Even though Bush scored the lowest possible passing score on his flight aptitude test — 25% (out of 100%) on a multiple choice test where each question had only four answers (the average score you get if you randomly fill in ovals and do not read the test), Rose pushed Bush in frontof the many pilots with better scores ahead of him on the waiting list. Rose also appointed Bush as second lieutenant after only six weeks of basic training. Texas National Guard historian Tom Hail told The Los Angeles Times on July 4, 1999 that he knew of no other example in the history of the Texas National Guard where someone other than Bush was promoted to this rank after basic training with such little credentials (without four years of ROTC, 18 months of active military service, or training as a surgeon).
In fact, George W. Bush, son of a Congressman and grandson of a Senator was quite literally a poster boy for the Texas Air National Guard, which issued a press release in March 1970 saying, “George Walker Bush is one member of the younger generation who doesn’t get his kicks from pot or hashish or speed … As far as kicks are concerned, Lt. Bush gets his from the roaring afterburner of the F-102.”
Bush agreed to serve six years in the Texas National Guard, serving as a “weekend warrior” that required him to put in at least 36 days a year (12 days at camp plus a weekend a month). The National Guard spent almost $1 million dollars training Bush to pilot the F-102, and in his first four years, Bush had many days of active training. But in May 1972, Bush abruptly stopped flying. Although he had two more years to serve and despite the taxpayers’ investment in him, Bush chose, without leave, to never fly again. Today, Bush’s conduct would almost certainly lead to a less-than-honorable discharge or time in the brig.
III. Was Bush AWOL from the National Guard?
Note: All documents in this section are from Bush’s actual Texas National Guard records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. But some documents are missing because this law does not allow the public to see disciplinary and health records, without permission from the servicemember. Bush is the only known President or candidate for President to have served in the military or Guard to refuse to disclose his full records, including any health records or details of his discipline by the Guard.
On May 15, 1972, without leave to do so, Bush “cleared this base” to work on a Senate campaign in Montgomery, Alabama. On May 24, nine days after “clearing out,” Bush retroactively requested permission for his absence without leave. Although the Alabama commanding officer approved Bush’s request, national headquarters turned him down, saying Bush had an obligation to remain until May 1974, and since Bush had been trained to fly, he was “ineligible for assignment” to a non-flying unit in Alabama.
Bush ignored the refusal of the National Guard to let him transfer. And Bush absented himself without leave. “He cleared his base on May 15, 1972″ and “has not been observed at this unit during the period of report” from May 1972 to May 1973. One of the authors of the report showing his absence for the year, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian, was a good friend of George W. Bush and would surely have remembered if Bush had returned to base. The Texas National Guard was apparently under the (false) impression that Bush was serving in Alabama. Further documentary proof of Bush’s absence from Texas without leave is contained in Bush’s blank annual evaluation report for entire period from May 1972 to May 1973 and his Chronological Listing of Service.
Not only was Bush absent from Texas during this year, there is no record of Bush showing up in Alabama either. When this controversy broke in 2000, Bush referred reporters to Albert Lloyd Jr., a retired colonel who was the Texas Air Guard personnel director at the time. According to Lloyd, if Bush performed duty in Alabama, “his drill attendance should have been certified and sent to [Texas] and there would have been a record. We cannot find the records to show he fulfilled the requirements in Alabama.”
Meanwhile, on his birthday July 6, 1972, Bush was required to take an annual military physical. In April 1972, the National Guard first implemented random drug testing, and this would have been the first physical of Bush’s service where he might undergo such testing. But Bush did not “accomplish” his annual medical examination. This means Bush either flunked the physical or refused to submit to one. If Bush flunked the physical for drug use, that would be in the health records Bush refuses to disclose to this day. Recall Bush will not say whether he used cocaine prior to 1974.
Failing to have a drug-free physical required the military to convene a Flight Inquiry Board to give George W. Bush discipline. Although Bush still refuses to disclose his disciplinary records, the final result was clear: Bush was suspended, grounded from flying, and placed on probation in the Army Reserve Force.
On September 5, 1972, after being suspended from the Texas National Guard and grounded from flying, Bush again requested transfer to the Alabama National Guard. This time, having been grounded from flying and useless to his commanders in Texas because Bush could not “satisfy flight requirements” on the ground, his request was granted, and Bush was ordered to report on four specific days in October and November (having already missed September) to General Turnipseed of the Alabama National Guard. Bush never showed up and violated this direct order. Bush spokesman Dan Bartless conceded to The New York Times that “Bush did not serve on those dates because he was involved in the Senate campaign” and argued Bush made up the time later. (But Bush could not have made the time later as a pilot because he had already been grounded and suspended for refusing to have a medical examination that included a drug test. See further discussion below.)
There is no documentary evidence that Bush ever showed up in Alabama. The Alabama documents are strangely missing. General Turnipseed, to whom Bush was required to report, said, “I’m dead certain he didn’t show up”..Had he reported in, I would have had some recall, and I do not”. I would have remembered . . . a first lieutenant from Texas” who was also the son of a Congressman and had been a poster boy for the Texas National Guard. A reward of four thousand dollars has been offered for anyone (including Bush) who can prove Bush showed up at either the Texas National Guard or the Alabama National Guard after May 1972. But this is not a question of memory, “he said, he said,” or unclaimed reward money. Bush’s official Chronological Listing of Service shows no record of service after May 1972 in Texas or Alabama.
This time — late 1972 and early 1973 — was probably the lowest point in George W. Bush’s life. After taking his 16-year-old brother Marvin drinking over the Christmas holidays, Bush drove home drunk, crashed his car into his neighbors’ garbage cans, and challenged his father to a fist-fight mano a mano. In early 1973, Bush did community service in inner-city Houston which, some argue (although Bush has been careful not to confirm or deny this), Bush was required to do as part of a plea bargain for a cocaine conviction.
In any event, after Bush’s temporary assignment in Alabama was concluded without his showing up, Bush returned to Texas, and was again ordered to show up at the Texas National Guard for nine specific days of “Annual Active-Duty Training” in May and June 1973. To do this, of course, Bush would have to undergo a physical that included a drug test so he could fly again. According to Bush’s official Chronological Listing of Service, Bush again failed to show up, which would have been his second failure to follow express National Guard orders to appear (his third, if you include when he “cleared this base” without permission to do so).
On September 5, 1973, Bush requested premature discharge from the Texas Air National Guard eight months early to attend Harvard Business School. As the Texas National Guard had no use for a grounded pilot, a man without useful skills (see below), the Texas Guard was probably grateful to see him go. Embarrassed that a poster boy son of a Congressman would not take a drug test, the Texas Guard probably decided not to compound the embarrassment by giving him further discipline or a dishonorable discharge. That’s not how things were done in the “Champagne Unit” for children of the elite. Of course, we can never know for sure why he was not further punished unless Bush releases his full military records, including his disciplinary record.
So despite his spotty record of service, Bush received an early honorable discharge on October 1, 1973. Later, Bush’s military record was rectified to show Bush as having been discharged in November 1974. Marty Heldt, the farmer who obtained the original FOIA records, argues that this extra six months of “paper duty” was retroactively added to Bush’s record as an extremely lenient “discipline” for Bush’s misconduct, but unless and until Bush releases his full National Guard records, we cannot know for sure. What we do know is that Bush certainly did not serve in any National Guard during this time. He was a full-time student at Harvard Business School.
IV. Did Bush Make Up for his Time of Absence?
Bush supporters argue that even if he was absent without leave, Bush made up for his missed time, and his honorable discharge proves it. It is true that Bush– possibly with the help of some powerful friends–got an honorable discharge, but did he really make up the time?
Bush’s only skill was as a pilot. As Bush had no other skills — as he was an officer without officer training (unlike other officers who went to ROTC), and as he had no training in another Guard category such as a mechanic, a typist, or even a cook — he was of no use to the Texas National Guard after he was suspended and grounded in 1972. So they put him in the Air Reserve Force, the “ARF” — a “paper unit” for Guard Members that were suspended from duty — a place that did not exist anywhere except on paper — a place for any member of the Air National Guard that could not fulfill his duties to the Guard. This fact, explained to me by Lieutenant Rogers who served in the Air Force National Guard, has been totally lost on the mainstream press. In effect, Bush was suspended from the Guard in 1972 and never returned — all because he would not take a physical that included a drug test. Two years of his commitment and almost $1 million in training were thrown away.
To bolster the claim that Bush made up his time, Bush operatives have provided to the media two unsigned, undated records from Bush’s time in the ARF. These records, in themselves, are highly unusual. According to Lt. Rogers, all such records should be signed, dated, and certified with a seal (as were all of Bush’s other Guard documents, as you know if you’ve been checking the links). The first ARF record appears to show 35 gratuitous credits, no-show free credits Bush received despite doing nothing to get them in May, June, and July of 1973. What could Bush do? As noted above, Bush was grounded from flying and had no other skills useful to the Guard. Did he do clerical work on the base? There is no evidence of this in Bush’s official Chronological Listing of Service. Furthermore, if the unsigned, undated ARF records are accurate, Bush was no longer effectively in the Texas Air National Guard. He was in the ARF, which was, at least on paper, in Denver, Colorado while Bush was in Houston. There is no evidence Bush ever went to Denver to work at the ARF.
The second ARF record is even more controversial. It is torn, with the social security number redacted and most of the dates and name (except the initial W.) ripped off. Suspiciously, this record was apparently not supplied to The Boston Globe in their early 1999 Freedom of Information Act request.
The torn document purports to show another 41 gratuitous credits ” more no-show free credits earned despite no service rendered — and Bush supporters argue this document represents service done in Texas from November 1972 to May 1973. Someone in the Bush camp even marked up the document before turning it over to George Magazine. The problem with this record is it directly contradicts the statements of Bush’s commanders, including his friend Colonel Killian, that Bush was not observed at the Texas National Guard during this entire time. Furthermore, whoever marked up the document with the words “ACTIVE DUTY” misunderstood the ARF. There was no active duty in the ARF.
The authenticity of the second torn document is suspect. Bush operatives are known to have perused the record in 1997. On November 5, 2000, Bill Burkett, a Lieutenant Colonel who was the State Plans Officer of the Texas National Guard at the time, reported in The London Times that Bush operative Dan Bartlett headed a high-level operation to “scrub” Bush’s Air National Guard record, to make sure the record was in sync with the biography that the campaign was preparing and to remove embarrassing material.
But scrubbed or not, even if the torn document is accurate (which is hotly disputed) –neither document demonstrates that Bush showed up at either the Texas Guard or Alabama Guard in his last two years of service. The documents are “gratuitous” time of the Army Reserve Force (the ARF), the “paper unit” where Bush was serving out his probation. Let’s be clear: Bush did nothing to get these “no-show free credits.” And is quite likely that someone not as favored as he would not have gotten free credit-hours for doing nothing.
Despite all this, these free credits — or some other favoritism — were enough to get Bush an honorable discharge.
V. Was Bush either AWOL or a “deserter” from the Texas National Guard?
Republicans tout Bush’s honorable discharge as if this were evidence that Bush was never AWOL or a deserter from the National Guard, but the fact that Bush was fortunate enough to have friends in high places to get free credits without doing actual service and receive an honorable discharge does not answer the question. Neither does the fact that Bush was never court-martialed, as unlike the military, it was very rare to court-martial National Guard members for AWOL or desertion, particularly if they were sons of prominent people. Remember: if you steal something — and a cop or district attorney decides not to prosecute you — you’re still a thief, just not a convicted one.
The question of AWOL or desertion is a question of law. Excerpts of Chapter 432 of the Texas Code of Military Justice (1987) are reprinted below:
” 432.131. Absence Without Leave
A person subject to this chapter shall be punished as a court-martial directs if the person without authority:
(1) fails to go to his appointed place of duty at the time prescribed;
(2) goes from that place; or
(3) absents himself or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty at which he is required to be at the time prescribed.
Acts 1987, 70th Leg., ch. 147, Sect. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1987.
Unless this same Chapter 432 of the Texas Code of Military Justice has changed dramatically since 1972, it is undisputed that Bush was AWOL.
How about desertion?
” 432.130. Desertion
(a) A member of the state military forces is guilty of desertion if the member:
(1) without authority goes or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to remain away permanently;
. . .
(c) A person found guilty of desertion or attempt to desert shall be punished as a court-martial directs.
Acts 1987, 70th Leg., ch. 147, Sect. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1987.
This question is more difficult. Clearly Bush was a member of the state military forces who, without authority, remained absent from his unit (both in Texas and Alabama). The tough question is whether he intended to remain away permanently. One could argue Bush only intended to be away for the duration of the Alabama Senate campaign. Yet when Bush’s transfer to Alabama was granted in September 1972, Bush still refused to show up to the unit where he was ordered to appear. Furthermore, Bush never took his physical to be able to fly again, despite the National Guard spending nearly $1 million dollars training him. As Bush never made any attempt to fly again — and his records show he never returned to serve in Texas or Alabama — it is quite possible he never intended to return.
Although Bush never returned for service, arguably his “gratuitous credit” from the disputed unsigned, undated logs counts as a return. Determining intent is difficult. “Intent” is not judged by whether a servicemember actually returns or not but on whether the servicemember intended to remain away permanently at any point during the absence. In Bush’s case, one can point to evidence either way. If Bush had served in the Army, rather than the National Guard, Bush would have been an administrative “deserter” because he was AWOL for more than 31 days.
But Bush never served in the Army. So the question of his “desertion” is unclear and depends on the vagaries of his “intent.” There is no way to tell for sure unless a court-martial is convened and determines the question (an extraordinarily unlikely event).
In sum, the charge of “deserter” is not “reckless” or “unsupported by facts.” It is a difficult call. I would not call Bush a deserter, but I can understand how others would.
VI. Is this Report Fair?
“I think that people need to be held responsible for the actions they take in life. I think that’s part of the need for a cultural change. We need to say that each of us needs to be responsible for what we do.” — George W. Bush in the first Presidential debate, October 3, 2000.
”I did the duty necessary … That’s why I was honorably discharged” — George W. Bush, May 23, 2000
Many Americans in the 1960’s tried to avoid service in Vietnam. Some, like Bill Clinton, opposed the war, worked to end it, but did not want to serve in it and were never drafted. Others like General Clark and John Kerry fought in Vietnam, with Kerry returning home to oppose the war. Still others like George Bush and Dick Cheney supported the war but did not want to fight in it themselves. Bush joined the National Guard to avoid service in Vietnam, while Dick Cheney received five deferments.
It is not terribly scandalous that Bush, like so many others, joined the National Guard to avoid Vietnam. But it is interesting that Bush continues to this day to lie about it. Bush repeatedly claims that he did not receive special treatment. And Bush’s claim that he reported for National Guard service after 1972 is contradicted by the evidence cited above.
Other clearly provable lies include Bush’s claim that the Texas National Guard was no longer flying F-102s in 1973 and that Bush could not take his physical because he was in Alabama and his family physician was in Houston. As it happens: (1) only military doctors can do the physical; (2) there were plenty such doctors in Montgomery, Alabama, and (3) Bush returned home to Houston but still did not take the physical. Bush also continues to lie about his military service in his official biography, on resumes, and on websites.
In all likelihood, the reason for Bush’s lying is understandable. Like many Americans who have misused alcohol and drugs, Bush probably wishes to conceal evidence of a criminal conviction. Why else will he not say whether he was arrested for illegal drug use prior to 1974? Why won’t he turn over his military records which have redacted his prior arrest information?
Many Americans have been arrested for using illegal substances and gone on to lead productive lives. So is it fair to bring up these thirty-year-old facts? Maybe so, maybe not. I do believe, for example, that a person’s private sex life is their own business as long as they do not break the law, but the media disagreed and examined Bill Clinton’s private sex life relentlessly.
But breaking the law is another matter. If Bush — who we know was arrested for assaulting someone at a college football game, for theft (a fraternity prank), and for drunk driving — was also convicted of using illegal drugs, I believe the public has a right to know, particularly as Bush continues to support long mandatory prison sentences for those convicted of non-violent drug offenses.
The American public should be able to know Bush’s complete criminal record and decide for themselves whether it matters. They may discount it, much as the public discounted Gore’s admission that he used marijuana while serving his country in Vietnam. Similarly, Bush should come clean about his military record. If he obtained favoritism or failed to show up because he was addicted to drugs at the time, he should come clean and admit the truth to the American public rather than hiding it.
Democrats did not raise this issue in 2004. The press did. If Peter Jennings had not attacked General Clark’s character, it probably would not have become an issue. But Jennings claim that calling Bush a “deserter” “was a reckless charge not supported by facts” cannot close debate on the subject. Whether or not Bush was a deserter, he was almost certainly AWOL, and the American People have the right to know about it.
All I ask is that the media give the American People all the facts of the case and let them decide. The media should also demand from this President that he disclose his service records like all Presidential candidates before him.
And if you’ve read this far, I ask that you contact the media and ask them to do the same.
I want to thank Marty Heldt, Lieutenant Rogers and Democrats.com for obtaining the FOIA documents and providing the basic research for this article. I have borrowed liberally from their analysis, but any mistakes made are my own. If you see anything in this report that is inaccurate or a link is not working, please contact me.
VIII. Interview with Lieutenant Rogers
Mark Levine interviewed First Lieutenant Robert A. Rogers, the former fighter pilot in the Air National Guard who analyzed these records in his 2000 report.
(archived broadcast )