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George W. Bush and the National Guard: Still a Mystery

A photo of George W. Bush as a young man, in a military dress uniform, with wings and service bar on his chest

Texas Monthly has taken a fresh run at the National Guard service of George W. Bush — especially the mysterious “missing year” when he quit flying in Texas, went to Alabama, and (it seems) didn’t show up for duty.

“Explosive” is the term some have used for this new story, but it doesn’t really prove much new. The five basic facts haven’t changed.

1) George W. Bush quit flying suddenly in 1972, in the middle of his National Guard hitch as a pilot, for reasons unknown. 

2) That same year he went to Alabama to work on an obscure political campaign being run by a family friend. For about a year there’s no evidence that he performed his obligations to the National Guard. (“A $50,000 reward by a nonprofit group called Texans for Truth seeking anyone who could prove Bush fulfilled his Guard duty in Alabama was never collected.”)

3) There’s also still no hard evidence that he didn’t fulfill his duty. Bush won’t talk about it. His friends won’t talk about it, or about why he quit flying. The end.

4) The attempt to find a smoking gun about Alabama glosses over the greater scandal that everyone knows is true: That George W. Bush escaped the war because his dad was wealthy and politically powerful. He squeezed into the National Guard, got assigned to fly aging fighter jets that would never be used in combat, and spent the war far from Vietnam: 

“He had an apartment at the Chateau Dijon complex, an enclave of affluence where he played volleyball, barbecued, drank beer, and chased girls among the city’s oil-industry elite. He drove a Triumph sports car, his buzz cut and flight jacket obscuring his Andover-to-Yale background.”

5) Then in 2004, Bush sat silently by while his “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” chums attacked the war record of John Kerry — a man who had requested service in Vietnam, then heroically won three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star — and called him a liar and a man “unfit to serve” as president. Despicable.

The story’s author, Joe Hagen, has turned up a few juicy tidbits, including the allegation that Bush stopped flying in 1972 because he got a bad case of nerves. “Bush’s former commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian, allegedly [said] that Bush had stopped flying because he became afraid to land the plane.” A revelation like that would go a long way toward explaining why Bush and his family have been so careful to obscure the facts about that time. Nothing too heroic about a military pilot who’s afraid to land his plane… in Texas.

But as with all other parts of this story, Hagen can’t pin that rumor down for sure. So nothing will come of it.

See the Texas Monthly story »

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