Why hasn’t the White House previously offered us the assertion that Bush “volunteered for Vietnam?” I mean, what, did Bush simply forget about that episode? Or has he been silent about it because he realizes it’s kind of lame to say, “Gee, I asked about going to Vietnam once, but they wouldn't let me”? This isn’t like Winston Churchill asking General Eisenhower’s permission to ride out with the Normandy assault troops on D-Day. I’m sure if Bush really wanted to go to Vietnam, he could have pulled some of the very same strings he used to get into the Texas Air National Guard in the first place and gotten himself over there.
Or has the “Bush volunteered” story not come up before because (like the Kerry didn’t deserve his medal’s story) it’s untrue?
But it's never been established that Bush pulled strings to get into the TANG. One could just as well read his failure to get assigned to Vietnam as evidence that he did not rely on string-pulling to get what he wanted. As to why Bush never raised this point before: Perhaps it's because Bush has never used his military service for self-promotion. You might say that's because he has little to brag about, and surely volunteering to go to Vietnam when you don't meet the eligibility requirements is not an especially strong basis for bragging. But generally, those who've served in the military refrain from using their service for self-promotion, don't they? And one reason the Swift Boat Vets came forward when they did was that Kerry began to use his claim of military heroism as the centerpiece of his campaign.
Personally, I'm willing to accept Kerry's medals as the final judgment about what Kerry did in Vietnam and Bush's honorable discharge as the final judgment that Bush fulfilled his duty to the Guard. I'd rather talk about more relevant things. Kerry supporters like The Columnist Manifesto can't let go of this argument that the man who has fought in a war is better prepared to make decisions about war. But you know damn well they'd rather have Bill Clinton.
UPDATE: An emailer sends this link to a 1999 interview with Bush that appeared in the Washington Post. The information about Bush volunteering to go to Vietnam is clearly stated there. If it was untrue, I feel quite sure someone would have skewered him about it by now. The interview is also interesting for its clear statement of Bush's intent to become a pilot:
Why did you do the Guard instead of active duty?
I was guaranteed a pilot slot. I found out – as I'm sure you've researched all this out – they were looking for pilots. I think there were five or six pilot slots available. I was the third slot in the Texas Guard. Had that not worked out no telling where I would have been. I would have ended up in the military somewhere.
You meant to join the Guard when you took the pilot's qualifying test?
Or the regular Air Force. I was just looking for options. I didn't have a strategy. I knew I was going in the military. I wasn't sure what branch I was going into. I took the test with an eye obviously on the Guard slot, but had that not worked out I wouldn't have gotten into pilot training. I remember going to Air Force recruiting station and getting the Air Force recruiting material to be a pilot. Then I went home and I learned there was a pilot slot available.
The emailer notes:
George Bush has a father that served as a Navy pilot during WWII. I also had a father that served in the Navy during WWII. I think that, to a certain extent and at some level, both George Bush and I wanted to be our fathers. If you were a boy during the fifties and early sixties, and loved and respected your father, this was a very normal thing. My father was not in Naval aviation. So the thought of flying, while appealing, was not at the top of my list of things to do. I tried to be a Naval officer, but they wouldn't take me since I wear glasses.
George H.W. Bush was a Naval combat pilot. George W. Bush would have heard stories about that all his life. That, I think, is why wanted to be a pilot. Getting to be a military pilot then was not easy. There were just so many slots. The active duty pilot slots filled up quickly with military academy and ROTC graduates.
Based upon what I remember from the times, I could easily believe that there were no available fixed-wing flight school slots for active duty officers when George Bush was looking for one. The Guard, however, could easily have been another story. Much has been said about George Bush jumping the queue of 150 other people to get a slot in the TANG. This has been used as proof that he used favoritism to get into the Guard. There were 150 people on "the list" (as if there were only one list) and George Bush got into flight school. QED...
What has not been said is that few, if any, of those 150 people would have been applying for pilot slots. A non-flying slot would have meant, at most, about a six months commitment of time. About six to nine weeks in basic training followed by another six to ten weeks in a technical school. Then back to your home unit for some on-the-job training and then release from active duty. For the next four to six years, it's just one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Get your 50 points a year and then get out.
A pilot slot was a much different story. A one and a half to two year commitment to active duty was the norm. That's just about the same time commitment as for those who were drafted. At least the first year to year and a half would have been spent away from your Guard unit. You would spend that time on an Air Force base, wearing an Air Force uniform, and doing Air Force things with Air Force people. You might even think you were in the Air Force during that period.
Much has been made of George Bush's claim (and this is strictly hearsay since I never heard him say it) that he served "in the Air Force" when he was actually "only in the Guard." Well, as someone who was "there" at the time, I think they would have had trouble telling him apart from the "real Air Force" during his time in flight school. "If it looks like [an Air Force officer], and walks like [an Air Force officer]..."