CRAWFORD, Texas -- President Bush said in a television interview he does not think he received favorable treatment that allowed him to get into the Texas Air National Guard while many of his peers were drafted to fight in Vietnam.
"No. I don't. . . . I'm not aware of it," Bush said in the interview broadcast yesterday when asked whether family connections had helped him get a coveted place in the Guard.
He cited comments by the former commander of his Guard unit, Walter Staudt, who, according to Bush, "said the other day, publicly, I got no preferential treatment."
Bush made the comments in an interview with Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor." The final installment of the interview will be aired today, a day before Bush and his Democratic presidential rival, John F. Kerry, face off in their first televised debate. Senator Kerry is a decorated Vietnam veteran.
Bush said he had no regrets about serving in the Guard, adding: "Had my unit been called up [for a tour in Vietnam], I'd have gone."
But he did not directly address the controversy over gaps in his service in the Guard in the early 1970s.
"I fulfilled my duty, and was honorably discharged. I think I had about five hundred and seventy flying hours, and . . . I was on active duty for a little over a year and a half and I proudly served," Bush said. "I did exactly what my commanders told me to do."
Questions about Bush's National Guard service have dogged him during earlier political races and reemerged as an issue this year as Kerry emphasized his own service as a naval officer during the Vietnam War.
The White House has accused Kerry and his surrogates of instigating a new round of attacks on Bush's Guard service because Kerry is trailing in opinion polls.
The Democratic National Committee chairman, Terry McAuliffe, has derided Bush as "a fortunate son who has spent his whole life receiving special favors and having strings pulled for him," and accused him of refusing to "come clean" about the Guard.
Staudt was mentioned in a now-discredited report on CBS' "60 Minutes." The report cited a memo that claimed Staudt had sought to "sugar coat" Bush's record after he was suspended from flying.