Even allowing for the usual military-bureaucratic incompetence, records relating to George W. Bush’s National Guard Service have a suspiciously low survival rate, so there has been understandable incredulity about the recent revelation that a crucial quarter’s pay records from 1972 did not survive the Pentagon’s alleged attempt to transfer the microfilm to a more durable medium. That incredulity was enhanced rather than allayed when they eventually were discovered behind whichever filing cabinet they had been dropped.
At issue is whether Bush was, technically at least, a deserter in his fourth year of National Guard service, when he requested a transfer to Guard duties in Alabama so he could assist a Republican senatorial campaign there.
Bush asserts that he turned up and did his duty. However, no one on the base remembers seeing him, including the commanding officer and several other officers who say they were actively looking to network with the hot-shot Texan with the influential father–but waited in vain.
The paper record does show that he was ordered to report for a flight medical exam in July 1972, but that Bush “failed to accomplish” it, and that in September he was ordered to report for an inquiry into why he had not passed. His memories of these momentous events which grounded him and made him unfit for flight duties seem very hazy.
The White House says that since the plane he flew was about to be phased out of service, he felt he did not need to maintain his pilot rating. Normally, the Armed Forces do not take kindly to such executive decisions being made by junior officers–and in reality, the Texas Air National Guard was still flying the Delta Dagger that Bush was trained on even after he had gone to Harvard Business School.
The difficulty is the classic one: how to prove a negative. But there is clearly a dog that is not barking here. For example, the “failure to accomplish” his medical examination could mean either that he did not turn up, or that he did and failed it–in which case the answer may lie in medical records that the Bush Administration has refused to disclose.
It may or may not be significant that mandatory drug testing was introduced in 1972, and that Bush spokespeople have maintained that he had not used narcotics since 1974–while maintaining a discreet silence about what happened before then.
Bush could, if minded, produce W2 forms from the IRS that would show his Guard earnings while in Alabama. He has not. The White House has occasionally released a flood of documents seemingly intended to confuse the issue. The one tangible record that has emerged is that in January of 1973, Bush turned up for a dentist’s visit in Alabama–which is intriguing in itself since he was supposed to be back in Texas by then. The dentist is the only military person in Alabama with a credible memory of Bush attendance. Or rather, he affirmed that it was his signature on the examination card although he had no specific memory of peering into the mouth that later launched the Iraq War.