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Bush's Advantage on Military Service By: Ben Johnson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, September 10, 2004


"Mr. President, you and I know that…if service or non-service in the [Vietnam] war is to become a test of qualification for high office…our nation would never recover from the divisions created by that war."– Sen. John Kerry on the Senate floor, 1992.

The narrowly partisan opponents of the current War on Terrorism, panicked by the pro-war president’s double-digit lead in the polls, have drudged up their archaic ace-in-the-hole: the president’s service record in the Air National Guard. This issue is growing so old, it should have whiskers. The latest round of 527 commercials target alleged gaps in George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard. This time, a group named "Texans for Truth" is airing ads questioning whether George W. Bush ever flew in the Alabama National Guard in 1972. They charge, among other things, that Bush missed a physical examination, proving he never fulfilled his duty. Having had this issue vetted during two races for governor of Texas, one Republican primary and two presidential elections, the public has shown itself content with Bush’s affirmative answer. The last time the Left trotted out this charge – only six months ago – a young lady Bush dated in 1972 even confirmed that he completed his training in Montgomery. The facts show George W. Bush served honorably in the National Guard from 1968-73, volunteering the most hours when the country was most likely to call on him and decreasing his flight time as the nation pulled out of Vietnam. Weighing their records on balance, George W. Bush’s service record appears far more commendable than John Kerry’s.

The Facts on Bush’s National Guard Duty

George W. Bush entered the Texas Air National Guard upon graduating from Yale in May of 1968. For the next two years, Bush would fly almost non-stop for 80 weeks, making his Reserve duty a full-time job. From May 1968-69, he earned 253 flight points, more than five times the required annual minimum for Reserve members. He earned nearly 100 points more than that the following year. From 1970-72, he earned more than twice his minimum each year.

In 1972, he famously asked to be transferred to the Alabama National Guard, so he could work on a political campaign. He earned only 56 points from May 1972-73. In the summer of 1973, he earned another 56 points in just two months and was granted an honorable discharge six months before completing his six-year commitment. It is this latter portion of service the Left has seized upon. Non-veterans Terry MacAuliffe and Michael Moore have (falsely) described Bush as "AWOL" during this time. Others wondered how Bush could be allowed to turn in fewer hours in 1972-3 than he did the four previous years. The president’s opportunistic critics overlook the context of his Guard service: the conditions of the Vietnam War.

Bush entered the Guard at the high water mark of Lyndon Johnson’s escalation policies. By 1969, more than half-a-million U.S. soldiers were stationed in Vietnam. After the inauguration of Richard Nixon, the Republican who campaigned on a platform of "peace with honor" began the first significant troop withdrawals: 75,000 by the end of 1969. Through his policy of "Vietnamization," Nixon recalled another 170,000 American troops by 1971. Despite these improvements, the American presence was significant.

It was during these years that George W. Bush logged the largest number of flight hours; precisely when he was needed the most, during the period of greatest likelihood he would be called into active duty for his country. According to his superiors, that service proved exemplary; Bush’s commanders peppered his five-plus year service record with commendations. In 1970, an evaluator raved Bush "clearly stands out as a top notch fighter interceptor pilot," calling the future president "a natural leader whom his contemporaries look to for leadership." How prophetic.

Over the next two years, the pace of President Nixon’s troop draw-downs would accelerate faster than he intended. This is also when the president (intentionally) decreased the number of draftees, soon phasing out conscription altogether. The last American ground troops were removed on August 23, 1972. Seven months later, Nixon pronounced, "The day we have all worked and prayed for has finally come," as he withdrew the last American troops from Vietnam in March 1973. And this was when George W. Bush put in only the minimum fly time necessary – when he was least needed and least likely to be called into service.

By 1972, the services were overrun with grounded pilots. In yesterday’s edition of The Hill, Byron York quotes retired Colonel William Campenni, who flew with Bush in 1970 and 1971. Campenni recalled:

In 1972, there was an enormous glut of pilots. The Vietnam War was winding down, and the Air Force was putting pilots in desk jobs. In ’72 or ’73, if you were a pilot, active or Guard, and you had an obligation and wanted to get out, no problem. In fact, you were helping them solve their problem.

By the time Bush put in for an early discharge, after he met all the fly time required, the Air Force was scrambling to shed unneeded officers, and there was no American presence in Vietnam whatever. The services welcomed the departure of a reservist who had logged far more than his required hours and would merely sit idle for six months. They had no war to fight; even the "real" servicemen had been called out– to the chagrin of democratic South Vietnamese. At the insistence of Congressional Democrats, who had Nixon over a barrel thanks to Watergate, America was AWOL from this battle, and our allies would pay the price.

These facts have not killed the liberal media’s outcry over the story – for the fourth or fifth time. Although Bush has turned over all his service records – including some the military, according to regulations, should have destroyed decades ago – while Kerry has stonewalled on his, the mainstream media pounced on the Bush story (just as they ignored the Swiftboat Vets’ ads at the height of that controversy). And though every media outlet in the country hinted at a Bush connection to the Swiftboat Vets operation, only former Republican Representative Joe Scarborough had the decency to investigate the background of these new "independent" campaigners. On his show last night, Scarborough pointed out that "Texans for Truth" organizer Glenn Smith had been a consultant for MoveOn.org, promoted the anti-Bush book Bush’s Brain, and was an associate of both Paul Begala and Ann Richards.

Making Political Hay on Vietnam

In response to these false and despicable ads, a prominent senator known as a war hero stated:

I am saddened by the fact that Vietnam has yet again been inserted into the campaign, and that it has been inserted in what I feel to be the worst possible way…The race for the White House should be about leadership, and leadership requires that one help heal the wounds of Vietnam, not reopen them…We do not need to divide America over who served and how.

No, it was not John McCain. OK, that was Senator John Kerry discussing Bill Clinton’s draft evasion on the Senate floor in 1992. In the 2004 presidential campaign, Kerry has been injecting Vietnam into the discussion at every opportunity. During his ridiculous midnight campaign rally after President Bush’s speech at the Republican National Convention, Kerry again played the Vietnam card: "The Vice President called me unfit for office last night." (He didn’t.) "Well, I'll leave it up to the voters to decide whether five deferments makes someone more qualified to defend this nation than two tours of duty." The conventional wisdom agrees: Kerry’s Purple Hearts trump Bush’s flights over the Gulf of Mexico. However, a closer look reveals Kerry’s war service record not be an advantage over Bush’s complete record at all.

Kerry’s Service

Bill Clinton claims that during Vietnam, John Kerry responded to his nation’s call with an Isaiah-like, "Send me." As usual, Clinton trimmed the facts to fit his story. Kerry went into the service in 1966 after petitioning his draft board for a deferment so he could study in Paris. (Kerry did not say, "Send me"; he said, "Non, merci.") John O’Neill’s Unfit for Command summarizes Kerry’s actions after the board denied his request:

Kerry decided to enlist in the Navy ... The top choice was the Navy Reserves where the duty commitment was shorter and a larger proportion of the period could be served stateside on inactive duty.

John Kerry's service record indicates that on Feb. 18, 1966, he enlisted in the United States Naval Reserves, status "inactive," not in the U.S. Navy.

Interestingly, Kerry would later equate George W. Bush’s service in the Reserves with going to Canada.

In December 1968, the Navy sent Kerry into Vietnam for the most celebrated four-month tour of duty in combat history. The Swiftboat Vets have raised troubling questions about nearly every aspect of Kerry’s service, including the conditions under which he was awarded all his medals. It appears Kerry put himself forward for Purple Hearts every time he scratched himself, racked up three medals, then got himself sent out of harm’s way on an arcane technicality forgotten by most men (including his commanding officers). Kerry petitioned for his third Purple Heart – probably the result of a self-inflicted grenade wound received on March 13, 1969, which he fibbed about – and asked to be sent stateside within four days. (On the Dick Cavett Show in 1971, he would claim he agonized for weeks over whether to leave the Mekong Delta.) After being sent home in April of 1969, Kerry asked his commanding officer, Admiral Walter F. Schlech Jr., "to tell his boss that his conscience dictated that he protest the war, that he wanted out of the Navy immediately so that he could run for Congress." So Kerry, too, left the service to work on a political campaign – his own. (He lost.) Unlike President Bush, though, he did not ask to be transferred to another state to complete his mandatory service; he left the service altogether – at the height of American involvement, to demonize his fellow countrymen.

Also unlike Bush, Kerry had not yet completed the prerequisites of service: specifically, to serve six more months. George W. Bush identified with and supported the troops by flying the most hours when American GIs were putting in the heaviest sacrifices and left only after civilian command completely withdrew American troops from Vietnam. Kerry would ask to be sent home from the heat of battle when troop strength was at a near-record high, then demand to be released even from domestic service, for reasons of "conscience." Six months after his discharge in January of 1970, John Kerry would begin agitating with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Although still a member of the Naval Reserves (he did not leave that service until 1978), John Kerry personally met with the North Vietnamese communists in Paris in 1970, a violation of the Logan Act and certainly an act bordering on treason. It was at this time he supported the "People’s Peace Treaty," a communist propaganda agreement calling for a total, immediate, unilateral American withdrawal from Vietnam.

In early 1971, he would hold the infamous Winter Soldier Investigation with Jane Fonda and a host of false veterans while his "band of brothers" continued to face deadly fire from "Victor Charlie." Even those "Winter Soldiers" who had actually set foot in Southeast Asia have since admitted their stories were contrived. One such veteran, Steven J. Pitkin, swore in an affadavit last Tuesday:

During the Winter Soldier Investigation, John Kerry and other leaders of that event pressured me to testify about American war crimes, despite my repeated statements that I could not honestly do so. ... Kerry and other leaders of the event instructed me to publicly state that I had witnessed incidents of rape, brutality, atrocities and racism, knowing that such statements would necessarily be untrue.

Pitkin later said, "[Kerry] did what I call extreme coaching" of witnesses.

A mere six months after this performance, John Kerry addressed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971, where he claimed American GIs had:

raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in [a] fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam….

North Vietnamese jailers used Kerry’s words to torture American POWs, including John McCain. Paul Galanti, who spent more than six years in captivity and volunteered on McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign, said the North Vietnamese often cited Kerry personally: "They wanted us to…confess to war crimes and killing babies and all this other stuff. They kept talking about Vietnam Veterans Against the War, they had seen the right way and…they had crossed over to the peoples' [i.e., Communist] side."

A few months later, Kerry would be the one contemplating violence, attending a VVAW meeting in which that body would consider assassinating a U.S. senator.

Kerry, in other words, served four months, was sent home after three scratches (including one self-inflicted wound to the buttocks) and immediately began giving Americans enemies torture fodder to use against his old Navy buddies in the Hanoi Hilton. During the same one-year period, George W. Bush was racking up 137 flight points, wearing the uniform of his country. He would continue to do so until after America’s involvement in the war ended. Bush’s Guard service, deeply rooted in his sense of patriotism, is beginning to look better and better. And Kerry’s service – every moment filmed for his political posterity, every loophole exploited out of self-preservation – is beginning to look less appealing every moment.

And who knows what we’ll find out after John Kerry releases all his service records?


Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of FrontPage Magazine and co-author, with David Horowitz, of the book Party of Defeat. He is also the author of the books Teresa Heinz Kerry's Radical Gifts (2009) and 57 Varieties of Radical Causes: Teresa Heinz Kerry's Charitable Giving (2004).


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