- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2005

From combined dispatches

Col. Eugene J. Holmes, whose disclosure of how Bill Clinton avoided the draft during the Vietnam War threatened his 1992 presidential candidacy, was buried yesterday in Fayetteville, Ark. He died Saturday at 88.

Col. Holmes, a survivor of the Bataan Death March in World War II, was the director of the ROTC program at the University of Arkansas in 1969 when Mr. Clinton, then a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England, applied for an ROTC slot that would exempt him from the Vietnam War draft.

But after he drew a high number in the draft lottery, making it highly unlikely that his Hot Springs draft board would call him to duty, he dropped out of the ROTC program and stayed in England to study. He subsequently dropped plans to enroll in law school at Arkansas and instead studied law at Yale.

The young Mr. Clinton said he had considered avoiding the draft by becoming a conscientious objector.

“The decision not to be a resister and the related subsequent decisions were the most difficult of my life,” he wrote to the colonel. “I decided to accept the draft in spite of my beliefs for one reason only, to maintain my political viability within the system … . I had no interest in the ROTC program itself, and all I seem to have done was to protect myself from physical harm. … I am writing, too, in the hope that my telling this one story will help you understand more clearly how so many fine people have come to find themselves loving their country but loathing the military.”

The existence of the letter was disclosed early in 1992 during the New Hampshire primary, as Mr. Clinton, then the governor of Arkansas, seemed to be gaining ground.

Col. Holmes said Mr. Clinton, as a student, had deliberately deceived him.

“I believe that he purposely deceived me,” the colonel said, “using the possibility of joining the ROTC as a ploy to work with the draft board to delay his induction and get a new draft classification.”

The full text of the letter was made public later in 1992 during the general election campaign. A copy of the letter was given to aides to the first President Bush, running for re-election, who prepared a speech denouncing the deception to be delivered to a National Guard Association meeting in Salt Lake City in early October. But the speech was never delivered.

David Tell, who was the research director for Mr. Bush, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he remembers being “vaguely disappointed” by what Col. Holmes had to say.

“It was no ‘eureka’ document. If you were looking for something to explode Clinton’s future political chances, this wasn’t it.”

The Clinton campaign held a different view. Several aides were said to be close to panic on the night before they thought Mr. Bush would deliver the speech.

Years later, Mr. Bush told a friend: “I got good advice, and I got bad advice. I took the bad advice.”

But there was no talk of politics yesterday at the funeral service for the colonel at the University Baptist Church in Fayetteville. The Rev. H.D. McCarty praised the colonel’s heroic service in the Philippines in the early days of World War II, when he won the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Silver Star for service as the outnumbered American forces held out against the Japanese on the Bataan Peninsula and on Corregidor, a heavily fortified island in Manila Bay.

He was one of 12,000 Americans and a much larger number of Filipinos who started the march from Mariveles, on the southern tip of the peninsula, 55 miles north to San Fernando. About 9,000 Americans arrived a week later. They had no food and were forced to drink from muddy puddles along the way. Col. Holmes was bayoneted twice, and his men carried him on a litter part of the way. Stragglers among the 3,000 who did not make it were shot, some were beheaded, and some were buried alive in graves they were forced to dig.

Col. Holmes was freed after nearly four years at Camp O’Donnell, as the Americans called their concentration camp, and with his back pay bought his wife, Irene, roses every day for the next six months.

He was assigned to the ROTC unit at the university in 1968, moving to Arkansas from California. He picked the Fayetteville assignment to be near a relative in Joplin, Mo., who was ill.

“Daddy was the kind of man who every little boy wants to grow up to be like, and every old man wishes he had been,” his daughter, Linda Burnett of Fayetteville, said yesterday.

His family had gathered by his bedside in the hour before his death, and Mrs. Burnett sang his favorite hymn, “Jesus, the Name Above All Names.”

“I said to him right before he died, ‘Daddy, the victory has been won, the battle is over. You can let go now.’ He was a fighter until the very last minute.”

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