Bush A Military "Deserter?" Calm Down, Michael
January 23, 2004
Updated: February 11, 2004
Clark backer Michael Moore calls President Bush a "deserter" for missing Air National Guard drills 31 years ago. Puh-lease!
This one has been around since Bush’s campaign against Al Gore, when a Boston Globe story appeared saying the newspaper could find no record of Bush attending required Air National Guard drills for a full year in 1972-73. Bush says he missed some weekend drills during the period in question, but attended others and later attended extra drills to make up for those he missed. Several news organizations looked into the matter and reached mixed conclusions.
Web sites devoted to criticizing Bush have kept the matter under discussion on the Internet ever since. It surfaced again when Michael Moore, the populist author and movie and TV producer, called Bush a “deserter” at a rally supporting retired Gen. Wesley Clark in
The fact is Bush was honorably discharged without ever being officially accused of desertion or being away without official leave.
(Note: On Feb. 10 Bush released previously undisclosed payroll and personnel records covering his service in 1973-73. See our separate article.)
"The Top 5%"
After graduating from Yale in 1968, Bush escaped conscription and possible combat duty in the then-raging Vietnam War by getting into the Texas Air National Guard. During the next four years Bush served the equivalent of 21 months on active duty, according to the Globe account, including more than a year of flight training. The Globe quoted Bush’s flight instructor, retired Col. Maurice H. Udell, as saying "I would rank him in the top 5 percent of pilots I knew.”
The Globe also said:
"Began to Disappear"
But the Globe said Bush “began to disappear from the Guard’s radar screen” with two years still to run on his six-year commitment, giving up flying for good in 1972. Bush moved from
The Globe quoted Bush as saying through his spokesman Dan Bartlett that he did recall reporting for non-flying duty in
"I Fulfilled My Obligations"
Bush himself later was quoted directly by the Dallas Morning News as admitting he missed some weekend drills while in Alabama, but saying he made them up afterward:
Records are lacking for that period. However, The Associated Press quoted two friends who worked with Bush in the Blount campaign as saying they recall him attending Air National Guard drills in Alabama. Joe Holcombe, described as a former Republican county chairman in Alabama, was quoted as saying, "It was pretty well-known that he was in the Guard while we worked on the campaign." And Emily Marks, who said she had dated Bush during the campaign, was quoted saying, "He told us that he was having to do his Guard duty in Alabama while he worked on the campaign." (Note: The AP originally gave the woman's name as Emily Martin, but later corrected that to Emily Marks.)
Bush returned to
Bush requested and was granted special permission to end his six-year hitch eight months early. He was released in October 1973 to to allow him to attend
After the Globe story, partisan Web sites denounced Bush as “AWOL” and worse. One is even named AwolBush.com. But other news organizations dug in and came to much milder conclusions.
George Magazine reported in October of 2000:
The New York Times reported
The Washington Post also reviewed records and concluded:
Some Democratic partisans have taken a much harsher view.
Democrats.com, a Web site that sells “Impeach Bush Now” bumper stickers, posted a rebuttal to the George Magazine piece saying “There is no credible evidence that Bush ever reported for duty for the last two years of his military obligation” and suggested “substance abuse as the most likely explanation.”
Michael Moore: "General vs. Deserter"
Michael Moore, in his bestselling book Stupid White Men, included an open letter to President Bush calling him "a possible felon, an unconvicted deserter, and a crybaby."
Walter V. Robinson “One-year gap in Bush’s Guard duty : No records of airman at drills in 1972-73,” Boston Globe 23 May 2000: A1.
Wayne Slater "Records of Bush's Ala. Military Service Can't Be Found," Dallas Morning News 26 June 2000: A6.
The Associated Press "Friends from Alabama days back Bush's military claims," Houston Chronicle 5 July 2000: A17.
Peter Keating and Karthik Thyagarajan “The Real Military Record of George W. Bush: Not Heroic, but Not AWOL, Either ,” George Magazine October 2000.
Jo Thomas “The 2000 Campaign: Military Service; Bush’s Guard attendance is Questioned and Defended,” New York Times
Bob Fertik “George Magazine is Wrong,” Democrats.com Web site, no date given.
George Lardner Jr.; Howard Kurtz “2 Democrats: Bush Let Guard Down; Gore Surrogates Revive Issue of Apparent Laxity in Candidate's Military Service,” The
Eric Slater, “
“Answers Beat Questions,”
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