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White House releases Bush's Guard records

Moving to squelch an election year controversy, the White House yesterday made public records showing that President Bush attended some Air National Guard training between mid-1972 and mid-1973 and was paid for it, and said the records refute reports that Bush did not fulfill his military obligation during the Vietnam War.

 

But the same records also show that Bush may not have met the minimum-service requirement expected of most Guard members, according to National Guard officials. And after releasing the records, the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, could not explain why, if Bush appeared for duty on the days listed in the documents, Bush's superiors wrote on May 2, 1973, that he had not been seen at his Houston air base for the previous 12 months.

"I can't speak for those individuals," McClellan said during a contentious news conference. "I speak for the president of the United States, and I can speak for the fact that the documents, as far as we know . . . demonstrate that the president fulfilled his duties."

The White House included with the documents a memorandum from a Texas Air National Guard personnel specialist stating that the documents prove that Bush had a "satisfactory year" for "retirement/retention" purposes between May 27, 1972, and May 26, 1973. But that specialist, retired Lieutenant Colonel Albert C. Lloyd Jr., acknowledged in an interview last night that he evaluated Bush using the lower of two measures for rating Guard service.

Guardsmen, he said, needed to serve more days to meet minimum-training requirements than to meet the lower threshold to receive retirement credit for the year.

"Should he have done more? Yes, he should have," Lloyd said of Bush, who was a fighter-interceptor pilot. "Did he have to? No."

The records, which were first reported yesterday by the Globe, show that Bush performed 25 days of weekend and active duty between May 27, 1972, and May 26, 1973. The minimum annual requirement for National Guard service in 1972 was one weekend a month -- 24 days -- and 15 days of active duty -- the same basic requirement that exists today, Lieutenant Colonel Coennie Woods of the National Guard Bureau said in an interview.

The bureau is the Department of Defense agency that controls the National Guard.

Retired Colonel Earl W. Lively, who was the operations officer for the Texas Air National Guard at the time, said Bush's performance for the 12 months fell short "of what everyone was expected to do." Lively said that had Bush been under his direct command, "I'd have wanted to know why he didn't meet the requirement. Then I would have decided whether to keep him on or send him to the inactive Reserve."

Still, both Lloyd and Lively said Bush logged enough points to continue with his Guard service. And other officials said commanders could give guardsmen leeway on meeting service requirements.

"There is definitely some commander discretion," said Reggie Saville, a civilian spokesman for the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va. "If you go the extra distance to stay in touch with your commander, you have extra leeway." Receiving an honorable discharge "is a matter of maintaining a good relationship with the unit. It doesn't necessarily mean making every drill, and getting every `i' dotted and every `t' perfectly crossed."

McClellan said that, as far as the White House is concerned, the issue is settled. "These documents outline the days on which he was paid. That means he served. And these documents also show he met his requirements," McClellan told reporters. "And it's just really a shame that people are continuing to bring this up."

Even so, aspects of the records remain puzzling.

For example, Bush's military records contain orders for him to do weekend duty at an Air National Guard unit in Alabama on Oct. 7-8, 1972, and Nov. 4-5, 1972, during a period when Bush had temporarily relocated to Montgomery to work on a political campaign. The unit's commander said in two interviews four years ago that Bush never appeared.

The records released yesterday show Bush's late 1972 duty was performed not on the days listed in his orders but on Oct. 28-29 and Nov. 11-14.

McClellan said he did not know whether Bush performed that duty in Alabama, where Bush has said he recalls attending drills, or Texas.

Until the new records became available, there was nothing in Bush's public military records to indicate he performed any duty between April 16, 1972 -- his last duty day at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston before he moved to Alabama -- and May 1, 1973. And Bush's official discharge papers contain no evidence of any duty between May 1972 and his release from the Guard in the fall of 1973.

Still, the records that were unearthed from a Colorado records facility show Bush appeared for training on nine occasions, for 25 days, during the contested 12 months. But the records also make it clear why he fell short of minimal requirements: Bush did no duty at all between April 16 and Oct. 28, 1972. Nor did he appear for monthly training in December 1972 or in February and March of 1973.

McClellan could not say whether Bush or his staff had been able to locate any fellow Guard members who could back up records -- and Bush's memory -- that Bush showed up for duty at any time from mid-1972 to mid-1973 in either Alabama or Texas. The Bush campaign in 2000 said it would attempt to locate some of Bush's fellow Guard members.

"All the information that we have we shared with you in 2000, that was relevant to this issue. All the additional information that has come to our attention, we have shared with you," McClellan said, adding that the information was gathered early this week after Bush said during an interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he would release records pertaining to his Guard service.

The records released yesterday list Bush as serving at Ellington in January and April of 1973. His military file also includes orders that Bush appear for duty again May 1-3, 1973. But the two lieutenant colonels who were in charge of Bush's annual officer evaluation for the period between May 1, 1972, and April 30, 1973, wrote on May 2, 1973 that "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of report. A civilian occupation made it necessary for him to move to Montgomery, Alabama. He cleared this base on 15 May 1972 and has been performing equivalent training in a non-flying status with the 187th Tac Recon Gp, Dannelly ANG Base, Alabama."

In an e-mail to the Globe last night, White House communications director Dan Bartlett noted that one of those two officers, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, approved Bush's request for an early discharge on Sept. 5, 1972. "Must have seen him," Bartlett wrote.

Killian, who is now dead, and Bush were friends, according to Bush's 1999 autobiography, "A Charge to Keep."

Among the other questions left unresolved yesterday: Why Bush did not take his annual flight physical in August 1972. The following month, he was removed from flight status and never flew as a Guard pilot again. Yesterday, McClellan refused to answer questions about that issue.

"There are some out there that were making outrageous, baseless accusations," he said. "It was a shame that they brought it up four years ago. It was a shame that they brought it up again this year. And I think that the facts are very clear from these documents."

Some Democrats yesterday expressed dissatisfaction with the White House's accounting for Bush's service time. "The handful of documents released today by the White House creates more questions than answers," Democratic National chairman Terry McAuliffe said, according to the Associated Press.

Sacha Pfeiffer and Francie Latour of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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