Fear of Flying

Fear of Flying

Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.


A new source has emerged with what she says is personal knowledge about why George W. Bush prematurely left his Texas National Guard unit in 1972–because nerves, fear and a possible drinking problem were affecting his ability to pilot his F-102A plane. If true, this information further confirms a growing body of evidence that Bush has not been candid about his departure from his unit. At various times the President and his spokespersons have offered shifting rationales, from the planned eventual mothballing of the F-102As, to his doctor’s unavailability to give him a flight physical, to a professional opportunity in another state.

However, Janet Linke of Jacksonville, Florida, says that it all came down to an inability to perform. Linke is the widow of Jan Peter Linke, who was brought into Bush’s National Guard unit to replace him when Bush left the unit and the state for Alabama in May 1972.

Linke says that Bush’s now-deceased commanding officer in the Texas Air National Guard’s 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Lieut. Col. Jerry Killian, confided in her and her husband during an encounter at a social gathering as to the reasons Mr. Linke had been brought in to replace Bush. “He said Bush was mucking up his flying very badly and he couldn’t fly the plane,” Linke said. “Killan told us that he was having trouble landing, and that possibly there was a drinking problem involved in that”–which Linke took to mean a particularly debilitating one, since carousing was almost the norm in such units.

Jan Peter Linke, a veteran Air Force pilot who was flying the same plane, the F-102, for the Florida Air National Guard, was hired by Bush’s superiors to replace him in his Texas Air Guard unit. “They [Houston] were looking for someone they didn’t have to spend extra money training,” recalled Linke.

Linke does not appear to have sought out journalists or publicity for what she knows. She says she voted for Bush’s father but that she had become increasingly disturbed by what she regarded as the younger Bush’s hypocrisy. Frustrated by ads from “Swift Boat Veterans” that questioned Kerry’s military service, Linke visited the Duval County Democratic Party to pick up a Kerry-Edwards lawn sign. While there, she made a remark about Bush’s flying record. Party officials encouraged her to tell her story to a local alternative paper, Folio Weekly, which she did. Linke subsequently consented to an interview with The Nation.

Notably, Linke’s contact with Folio occurred before the White House’s lawsuit-generated release of Bush’s flight logs, which appeared to corroborate the thrust of her claims. Those logs show Bush in the winter and early spring of 1972 having problems landing his plane and being placed into two-pilot training planes–from which he had graduated years earlier.

Linke’s account is crucial, because her husband was killed on August 21, 1973, in an automobile accident following drinks at the officers’ club, when his car went off a road. An official hard-bound album created for the Guard unit’s fiftieth anniversary in 1973 features a group shot of the 111th Squadron in which Jan Peter Linke is pictured, but not Bush (the unit photo was taken in December 1972).

Linke, who raised her son on military widow’s benefits and worked as an art teacher and arts coordinator in public and Episcopal schools before suffering a stroke, was intensely private about personal matters, according to those who knew her, and didn’t often speak about her husband and his tragic death. However, several people remember her mentioning her knowledge of Bush’s flying problems in the past. One, her fiancé, Delfino Dosio, said the topic of her late husband’s piloting work came up sometime after they met five years ago, and that he recalls her mentioning several years ago his replacing the faltering Bush. “[Bush] couldn’t cut the mustard; he was failing in his abilities to fly,” Dosio remembered hearing. “They were going to send him for retraining.” A neighbor, Renee Soforenko, a real estate entrepreneur, says she also recalls Linke mentioning the matter several times over the past few years.

Sylvia Johnson, principal of West Jacksonville elementary school, where Linke taught, is not familiar with the Bush material, but rated Linke highly. “She was a wonderful, outstanding teacher, able to connect with children in a way you rarely see.” She said she didn’t know about the National Guard matter, but “I don’t have any reason to doubt her honesty.”

Linke says her husband first heard about the opening for a pilot in Bush’s unit on May 12, 1972. That date preceded Bush’s recorded departure from his base, suggesting that superiors were already planning to replace him. Bush’s last recorded flight came on April 16, 1972. Although his contractual obligation to continue flying would not expire for another two years, Bush would never fly again for the National Guard. In August 1972 Killian suspended the departed Bush from flying, ostensibly for his failure to take an annual physical exam. But Linke says that the physical was the result, not the cause. “He just became afraid to fly,” she said. “I don’t believe he was a coward. But he clearly had a problem flying one of these machines, and a problem landing.”

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