Bush Releases More Military Documents
White House officials on Friday evening released all the records they said they had on President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard, hoping to quell doubts about whether he fulfilled his military obligation during the Vietnam War era.
But many of the several hundred pages offered information that had already been released, and nothing in the new documents answered central questions about Bush’s Guard service -- whether he showed up for all the required duty during a temporary assignment in Alabama and why he was not observed on the air base in Texas when he returned.
However, one former Alabama Guard supervisor said in an interview Friday that he does remember Bush, then a second lieutenant and a jet pilot, reporting for duty in Montgomery.
Bill Calhoun said he distinctly remembered “hanging out” with Bush at the air base in Montgomery. A large number of other Alabama Guardsmen there at the time cannot recall running into Bush.
The president’s critics -- primarily Democratic officials -- have pressed the issue of his Guard service since the 2000 presidential campaign.
On Sunday, Bush defended his service and pledged in a televised interview to release “absolutely” everything from his Guard portfolio.
Throughout the week, the White House released portions of his records, including pay sheets, that they said showed Bush did serve in Alabama and was deserving of his honorable discharge; he was granted an early discharge from his six-year Guard commitment to attend Harvard Business School.
Presidential Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the new records arrived at the White House late Friday morning from a defense personnel center in Denver.
After the file was reviewed by White House communications director Dan Bartlett, a longtime Bush aide who also dealt with the controversy in 2000, the president ordered:
“Put it all out.”
As reporters loitered in his West Wing office Friday evening, waiting for their copies, McClellan said: “There were some who were making ridiculous suggestions and trying to leave a wrong impression that there was something to hide, when there is not.”
Bartlett insisted that the White House was not distracted by the controversy, although he personally had spent a considerable amount of time on the matter.
“This was all the press was talking about this week,” he said.
In addition to the papers made public, the White House allowed a small group of reporters to read Bush’s medical files from his years in the Guard -- 1968 to 1973 -- but did not allow them to take copies.
The medical records showed that Bush was routinely examined in 1968, 1970 and 1971. The documents also detailed several minor maladies in his youth, such as having his tonsils taken out at age 5, appendicitis at age 10 and a fatty cyst removed from his chest in 1960.
In 1968, as he was entering the Guard, Bush wrote in his records that “I feel my health is in excellent condition.”
The material also noted that Bush was suspended from the Guard in August 1972 for failing to take a medical examination. It gave no further explanation.
Bartlett said Bush did not take the physical because he knew he was transferring to Alabama and would be in a nonflying status there.
“There was no need or reason for him to take a flying exam,” Bartlett said.
The controversy over Bush’s service is likely to continue as the political season intensifies, especially since the Democratic presidential front-runner is Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, a decorated Vietnam War hero.
“Hopefully these are all the documents,” said Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Debra DeShong. “Each revelation of material from the Bush White House has raised more questions than it has answered. It remains to be seen if these newest documents will provide any answers.”
Added Stephanie Cutter, a spokeswoman for Kerry: “George W. Bush campaigned in 2000 promising to ‘restore honor and integrity to the White House.’ Tonight was a reminder that he’s still got a long way to go to fulfill that promise.”
A spokesman for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean also said Bush still has more questions to answer.
“Even after a late Friday night information release, President Bush not only still owes the American people the truth about his war record, but he owes us the truth about why he sent hundreds of thousands of men and women to war in Iraq,” said Dean spokesman Jay Carson.
Calhoun, the former Guard supervisor, said Friday that Bush reported for duty four to six weekends during the 1972-73 period he was in Alabama.
He mostly sat in Calhoun’s office and read flight magazines, pilot accident reports and other material to keep himself educated, the supervisor said.
“He read training articles, he read safety magazines,” Calhoun said. “That was how we made our drills. We required him to do it, and he showed up on time.”
However Bush’s pay records document him being with the unit only two weekends during that period.
Others in Alabama at the time had no memory of Bush being at the Guard’s 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group. He had gone to Alabama to work on a political campaign.
Wayne Rambo said the Vietnam era was a “very busy time,” during which hundreds of part-time soldiers performed weekend duty there.
“I can’t say that I knew he was there. But I can’t say I knew he wasn’t there,” said Rambo, 66, who served in the 187th for 17 years until 1973, when he left as a first lieutenant.
“It was not unusual at all for us to have people from other states request permission, as I understand Mr. Bush did at this time, to perform equivalent training.... To have one more pilot among us at a time like that is not really something that stands out. At that time he was not a known individual.”
Robert Ficquette, a captain in the unit in 1972, said the pay stubs the White House has displayed indicate Bush did serve at least six days in Alabama.
But, Ficquette said, “I don’t remember ever seeing him. If he says he was there and he got paid, he had to be there, because somebody had to see him and somebody had to certify that he got paid.”
Times staff writer John Hendren contributed to this report.