The “Bush was AWOL!” claim is evolving into an urban legend. If you want to tune in on the “debate,” check out Bill Hobbs’ fine site; Hobbs has been on this one for a while.
The observation I want to make here is on how urban legends grow. Today the Minneapolis Star Tribune reprinted an article from the Washington Post, with some additional material from the Associated Press, on Bush’s National Guard service. Here is a key portion of the Strib’s version of the Post’s article, which sounds quite damning:
Bush’s aides did not release new information to answer lingering questions about a one-year gap in the public record of his service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. Aides have said he reported to an Alabama unit during the period, from May 1972 to May 1973.
Retired Gen. William Turnipseed, a commander at the base Bush was assigned to, has said he never saw Bush appear for duty. Bush says he remembers meeting Turnipseed and performing drills at the base.
But the Strib didn’t reprint the whole Post article, which goes on to say: “The officer, retired Brig. Gen. William Turnipseed, hedged from a similar statement he made to the Boston Globe in 2000, saying he could not recall if he had been on base much at that time.” Which renders Turnipseed’s inability to remember Bush entirely meaningless.
But thousands of readers who rely on the Strib for their news will never know that; nor will the readers of hundreds of liberal web sites who have jumped uncritically onto the “Bush was AWOL!” bandwagon, for whom Turnipseed has become a star witness.
For what it’s worth, Bush not only put in more Guard service than was required, he was an excellent pilot:
Retired Col. Maury Udell, who trained Bush to fly the F-102, has no doubt his pupil was willing to go to Vietnam. Udell agreed that Bush was too inexperienced for Palace Alert, but he said the young man did become a good fighter pilot. “George got really good in air-to-air combat,” he said.
Udell, now a 270-pound judo expert who describes himself as a “war-type guy,” said Bush had an extraordinary memory and ability to process information. Udell said he spent six hours a day for six months training Bush.
“He was really good with folks,” he said. But the young pilot did not take insults well: “You can’t put him down too easily. He’s really tough. He’ll fight you.”
Bush’s commanders were equally pleased with the young officer. The Associated Press reviewed several glowing annual evaluations along with about 200 pages of Bush’s military record.
“Lt. Bush is an exceptional fighter interceptor pilot and officer,” Maj. William Harris wrote on May 26, 1972, in a typical example.
That evaluation came in the same month that the Democrats now claim Bush “deserted.” But those who propagate urban legends are not in the market for truth.