Growing evidence suggests that George W. Bush abruptly left his Texas Air National Guard unit in 1972 for substantive reasons pertaining to his inability to continue piloting a fighter jet.
A months-long investigation, which includes examination of hundreds of government-released documents, interviews with former Guard members and officials, military experts and Bush associates, points toward the conclusion that Bush’s personal behavior was causing alarm among his superior officers and would ultimately lead to his fleeing the state to avoid a physical exam he might have had difficulty passing. His failure to complete a physical exam became the official reason for his subsequent suspension from flying status.
This central issue, whether Bush did or did not complete his duty–and if not, why–has in recent days been obscured by a raging sideshow: a debate over the accuracy of documents aired on CBS’s 60 Minutes. Last week CBS News reported on newly unearthed memos purportedly prepared by Bush’s now-deceased commanding officer. In those documents, the officer, Lieut. Col. Jerry Killian, appeared to be establishing for the record events occurring at the time Bush abruptly left his Texas Air National Guard unit in May 1972. Among these: that Bush had failed to meet unspecified Guard standards and refused a direct order to take a physical exam, and that pressure was being applied on Killian and his superiors to whitewash whatever troubling circumstances Bush was in.
Questions have been raised about the authenticity of those memos, but the criticism of them appears at this time speculative and inconclusive, while their substance is consistent with a growing body of documentation and analysis.
If it is demonstrated that profound behavioral problems marred Bush’s wartime performance and even cut short his service, it could seriously challenge Bush’s essential appeal as a military steward and guardian of societal values. It could also explain the incomplete, contradictory and shifting explanations provided by the Bush camp for the President’s striking invisibility from the military during the final two years of his six-year military obligation. And it would explain the savagery and rapidity of the attack on the CBS documents.
In 1972 Bush’s unit activities underwent a change that could point to a degradation of his ability to fly a fighter jet. Last week, in response to a lawsuit, the White House released to the Associated Press Bush’s flight logs, which show that he abruptly shifted his emphasis in February and March 1972 from his assigned F-102A fighter jet to a two-seat T-33 training jet, from which he had graduated several years earlier, and was put back onto a flight simulator. The logs also show that on two occasions he required multiple attempts to land a one-seat fighter and a fighter simulator. This after Bush had already logged more than 200 hours in the one-seat F-102A.
Military experts say that his new, apparently downgraded and accompanied training mode, which included Bush’s sometimes moving into the co-pilot’s seat, can, in theory, be explained a variety of ways. He could, for example, have been training for a new position that might involve carrying student pilots. But the reality is that Bush himself has never mentioned this chapter in his life, nor has he provided a credible explanation. In addition, Bush’s highly detailed Officer Effectiveness Reports make no mention of this rather dramatic change.