A group of veterans motivated by 30-years of resentment accuse John Kerry of exaggerating his Vietnam wartime service, and their attack makes the front pages and cable gabfests. But when a news report showed that George W. Bush had overstated his military experience, Bush escaped without a scratch.
I am not referring to the Bush’s missing time in the Air National Guard. That episode did receive much attention–though only in the past year, not when the issue was first raised during the 2000 presidential campaign. Back then Bush was disingenuous about his Guard service. In his campaign autobiography, he wrote that he had completed his pilot training in 1970 while assigned to an air base in Houston and “continued flying with my unit for the next several years.” But as the Boston Globe revealed, he stopped flying during his final 18 months of service in 1972 and 1973. Bush had been grounded after failing to take a flight exam, and had won permission to train with a unit in Alabama where he did no flying. There are no records proving he showed up for duty in Alabama, but Bush has insisted he did.
Putting aside the controversy over Bush’s Air National Guard service (or dereliction of duty), there was another instance when Bush clearly did not speak truthfully about his military record. In 1978, Bush, while running for Congress in West Texas, produced campaign literature that claimed he had served in the US Air Force. According to a 1999 Associated Press report, Bush’s congressional campaign ran a pullout ad in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that declared he had served “in the US Air Force and the Texas Air National Guard where he piloted the F-102 aircraft.”
Bush lost that congressional race, but twenty-one years later, the AP questioned him about the ad. The news outlet had a good reason to do so. Bush had never served in the Air Force. He had only been in the Air National Guard. But when AP asked Bush if he had been justified in claiming service in the Air Force, Bush, then the governor of Texas and a presidential candidate, said, “I think so, yes. I was in the Air Force for over 600 days.” Karen Hughes, his spokeswoman, maintained that when Bush attended flight school for the Air National Guard from 1968 to 1969 he was considered to be on active duty for the Air Force and that several times afterward he had been placed on alert, which also qualified as active duty for the Air Force. All told, she said, Bush had logged 607 days of training and alerts. “As an officer [in the Air National Guard],” she told the AP, “he was serving on active duty in the Air Force.”
But this explanation was wrong. Says who? The Air Force. As the Associated Press reported,
The Air Force says that Air National Guard members are considered ‘guardsmen on active duty’ while receiving pilot training. They are not, however, counted as members of the overall active-duty Air Force.