[Mb-civic] NYTimes.com Article: Missing in Action

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Wed Sep 8 03:13:38 PDT 2004

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Missing in Action

September 8, 2004


President Bush claims that in the fall of 1972, he
fulfilled his Air National Guard duties at a base in
Alabama. But Bob Mintz was there - and he is sure Mr. Bush

Plenty of other officers have said they also don't recall
that Mr. Bush ever showed up for drills at the base. What's
different about Mr. Mintz is that he remembers actively
looking for Mr. Bush and never finding him. 

Mr. Mintz says he had heard that Mr. Bush - described as a
young Texas pilot with political influence - had
transferred to the base. He heard that Mr. Bush was also a
bachelor, so he was looking forward to partying together.
He's confident that he'd remember if Mr. Bush had shown up.

"I'm sure I would have seen him," Mr. Mintz said yesterday.
"It's a small unit, and you couldn't go in or out without
being seen. It was too close a space." There were only 25
to 30 pilots there, and Mr. Bush - a U.N. ambassador's son
who had dated Tricia Nixon - would have been particularly

I've steered clear until now of how Mr. Bush evaded service
in Vietnam because I thought other issues were more
important. But if Bush supporters attack John Kerry for his
conduct after he volunteered for dangerous duty in Vietnam,
it's only fair to scrutinize Mr. Bush's behavior. 

It's not a pretty sight. Mr. Bush was saved from active
duty, and perhaps Vietnam, only after the speaker of the
Texas House intervened for him because of his family's

Mr. Bush signed up in May 1968 for a six-year commitment,
justifying the $1 million investment in training him as a
pilot. But after less than two years, Mr. Bush abruptly
stopped flying, didn't show up for his physical and asked
to transfer to Alabama. He never again flew a military

Mr. Bush insists that after moving to Alabama in 1972, he
served out his obligation at Dannelly Air National Guard
Base in Montgomery (although he says he doesn't remember
what he did there). The only officer there who recalls Mr.
Bush was produced by the White House - he remembers Mr.
Bush vividly, but at times when even Mr. Bush acknowledges
he wasn't there. 

In contrast, Mr. Mintz is a compelling witness. Describing
himself as "a very strong military man," he served in the
military from 1959 to 1984. A commercial pilot, he is now a
Democrat but was a Republican for most of his life, and he
is not a Bush-hater. When I asked him whether the National
Guard controversy raises questions about Mr. Bush's
credibility, Mr. Mintz said only, "That's up to the
American people to decide." 

In his first interview with a national news organization,
Mr. Mintz recalled why he remembered Mr. Bush as a no-show:
"Young bachelors were kind of sparse. For that reason, I
was looking for someone to haul around with." Why speak out
now? He said, "After a lot of soul-searching, I just feel
it's my duty to stand up and do the right thing." 

Another particularly credible witness is Leonard Walls, a
retired Air Force colonel who was then a full-time pilot
instructor at the base. "I was there pretty much every
day," he said, adding: "I never saw him, and I was there
continually from July 1972 to July 1974." Mr. Walls, who
describes himself as nonpolitical, added, "If he had been
there more than once, I would have seen him." 

The sheer volume of missing documents, and missing
recollections, strongly suggests to me that Mr. Bush blew
off his Guard obligations. It's not fair to say Mr. Bush
deserted. My sense is that he (like some others at the
time) neglected his National Guard obligations, did the
bare minimum to avoid serious trouble and was finally let
off by commanders who considered him a headache but felt it
wasn't worth the hassle to punish him. 

"The record clearly and convincingly proves he did not
fulfill the obligations he incurred when he enlisted in the
Air National Guard," writes Gerald Lechliter, a retired
Army colonel who has made the most meticulous examination
I've seen of Mr. Bush's records (I've posted the full
32-page analysis here). Mr. Lechliter adds that Mr. Bush
received unauthorized or fraudulent payments that breached
National Guard rules, according to the documents that the
White House itself released. 

Does this disqualify Mr. Bush from being commander in
chief? No. But it should disqualify the Bush campaign from
sliming the military service of a rival who still carries
shrapnel from Vietnam in his thigh. 

E-mail: nicholas at nytimes.com



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