- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2000

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Vice President Al Gore Thursday recounted to students his service in the military during the Vietnam War, where he did a five-month stint as an Army journalist but never saw combat duty.

Mr. Gore said he had no regrets about volunteering, but said he would not have committed U.S. troops had he been president. "It was definitely a policy mistake," he told eighth-graders at Marie G. Davis Middle School.

But he said he enlisted in August 1969 because he was obliged to support the United States.

"The country was at war. If I didn't go, someone else would have to go in my place."

Students, who were encouraged to question Mr. Gore about his experiences, asked if his friends went to Vietnam, too. No, Mr. Gore said, most of them believed the war was wrong as he did and they found ways to avoid it.

That was part of the problem, Mr. Gore said. "Some people could figure out how to get out of it and some people couldn't."

Asked what his parents thought about his decision, Mr. Gore said they left the decision to him, although he noted it was complicated by the fact that his father was a U.S. senator at the time who was opposed to the war. But Mr. Gore didn't mention that his father was running for re-election that year, putting additional pressure on Mr. Gore to go to Vietnam.

Mr. Gore did not repeat a claim that he "regularly" took his turn guarding "the perimeter in these little fire bases out in the boonies," where they would "fire first and ask questions later."

The vice president had told Vanity Fair magazine that story in March 1988, according to Bob Zelnick, who has authored a book on Mr. Gore.

But after Mr. Zelnick interviewed Mr. Gore's army buddy, he discovered that the vice president did not pull guard duty in the field but only "at the secure base" where he was stationed.

"It was the equivalent of being a school crossing guard," Michael O'Hara told him. "I know guys that didn't even take their rifles with them."

Mr. Gore tried to capitalize on his military background in his first bid for the presidency in 1988. A campaign brochure he distributed in October 1987 depicted Mr. Gore carrying an M-16 rifle in Vietnam.

Mr. Gore also did not tell the students why he served only five months in Vietnam, while soldiers commonly spent a full year or more there.

The vice president has actively revised his role in the Vietnam War. Lately, he has said he was proud to serve in the armed forces.

But Mr. Gore wrote a letter to his father in the 1960s while he was a student at Harvard University accusing the United States of "creating and if not creating, energetically supporting fascist, totalitarian regimes in the name of fighting totalitarianism. Greece, South Vietnam, a good deal of Latin America. For me, the best example of all is the U.S. Army."

When the letter first surfaced in a 1994 New Yorker article, the vice president dismissed his remarks as "a college kid's silly language."

Mr. Gore's topics were lighter earlier in the day. He studied the color spectrum, checked out the school computers and tried to make marshmallow molecules on his third back-to-school trip.

With rain pouring, Mr. Gore skipped greeting the arriving bus drivers. Walking along covered sidewalks on the sprawling campus, he toured classes and met with small groups of teachers and staff.

He arrived in Charlotte after midnight, but that wasn't going to stop him from keeping an appointment with a local teacher who was serving as host for the night.

Mr. Gore has made a point of sleeping over at the home of a teacher from a chosen school. This time, it was Laurel Warfield's turn to play host.

"We're very excited," she said. "We've been really anticipating this big day or evening, or whatever it is."

Mrs. Warfield and her family waited up for Mr. Gore, served him a midnight snack and spent about 45 minutes talking about education and the importance of involving parents.

Mr. Gore slept in her son's cleaned-up room his poster of "that crazy [Dennis] Rodman" was covered up, Mrs. Warfield said. She said she hasn't decided whom to vote for in the presidential contest. "I'm still waiting on some of the issues."

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