Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The White House yesterday released military records that it said demonstrate conclusively that President Bush completed the required drills leading to an honorable discharge from the Texas Air National Guard in 1973.

“These documents clearly show that the president fulfilled his duties,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan as he waved copies of smudgy, 31-year-old pay and accreditation records stored on microfilm in a U.S. government military archives in Colorado.

The president had been dogged by accusations that he did not fulfill make-up requirements for missed Guard drills, and an officer of the Alabama Air National Guard, where the make-up drills were scheduled, said he did not remember Mr. Bush.

But further confirmation was supplied yesterday by a woman who dated the young George W. Bush in 1972 who says she distinctly remembers the young pilot visiting Montgomery that year to fulfill his Air National Guard commitment.

Emily Marks Curtis told The Times that she and Mr. Bush met in the summer of 1972 when he went to Montgomery from Texas to work in the U.S. Senate campaign of Winton Blount, a Bush family friend. She said the two became good friends.

After that election, she said, Mr. Bush returned to Texas. A few weeks later, he telephoned to say he was returning to Montgomery to complete drilling days at an Alabama squadron to which he had been transferred that year.

It has been standard procedure for many years for National Guard units to excuse members from scheduled drills for employment reasons, with the stipulation that missed drill time be made up.

“He called to tell me he was coming back to finish up his National Guard duty,” said Mrs. Curtis, who now lives in New Orleans. “I can say categorically he was there, and that’s why he came back.”

She said that he rented an apartment for a two-week stay and that she met him for dinner several times.

“I didn’t see him go to work. I didn’t see him come home from work,” she said. “He told me that was why he was in Montgomery. There is no other reason why he would come back to Montgomery.”

At the White House yesterday, Mr. McClellan criticized Democrats who have raised an issue that the president thought was settled during his days as Texas governor and in the 2000 presidential race.

“There are some out there that were making outrageous, baseless accusations,” the press secretary 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.”

When a television reporter accused Mr. McClellan of not answering his questions, the usually stoic Mr. McClellan responded tartly: “I’m sorry, John, but, you know, this is an important issue that some chose to raise in the context of an election year. And the facts are important for people to know. And if you don’t want to know the facts, that’s fine, but I want to share the facts with you.”

The records show that Mr. Bush earned sufficient drilling points to earn an honorable discharge. They also show he drilled two days in October 1972 and four days in November 1972 when he had transferred to the Alabama Guard unit.

Mr. Bush’s Air National Guard record resurfaced as a campaign issues after Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAullife accused the president of “being AWOL” during the Vietnam War.

Mr. McAullife, 47, was too young to be drafted when mandatory service was abolished in 1974, has not served in the military.

Republicans accuse Mr. McAullife of raising the issue now to contrast Mr. Bush’s Guard service with Sen. John Kerry’s service as a Navy lieutenant in Vietnam. Mr. Kerry, the Democratic presidential front-runner, has made his military service a prime theme in his stump speeches and TV ads.

Mr. McAullife kept up the attack yesterday, saying questions remain.

“We also still do not know why the president’s superiors filed a report saying they were unable to evaluate his performance for that year because he had not been present to be evaluated,” he said. “That report was filed on the very day these documents allege he was reporting for duty.”

Mr. Bush’s former commander, now dead, wrote that he could not judge the pilot’s performance for 1972 and 1973. However, others who served with Mr. Bush remember him as “one of our best pilots.”

In the 1992 campaign, Mr. Kerry, who has equated Mr. Bush’s National Guard service to running away to Canada, took to the Senate floor to denounce Republicans who questioned candidate Bill Clinton’s draft record. Mr. Kerry said it was time to stop re-examining how people did or did not serve during the Vietnam War. Mr. Clinton has never served in the military. As a university student, Mr. Clinton wrote a letter to the commander of the Reserve Officers Training Corps at the University of Arkansas, expressing a “loathing” for the military.

Mr. Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard in May 1968 after graduating from Yale. He went through initial flight training and then qualified on the F-102, an aging jet fighter interceptor, regarded as a particularly difficult plane to fly that would be phased out in the coming years.

He drilled at the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Texas Air National Guard, based at Ellington Air Force Base near Houston, accumulating scores of flying hours as his unit practiced intercepting Russian jets over the Gulf of Mexico.

William Campenni, a retired Guard pilot, served with Mr. Bush in the 111th. He remembers a training flight over the Gulf during which the future president mimicked a Soviet bomber.

“We crashed a couple of guys while George was down there,” said Mr. Campenni, who now runs an engineering consulting business in Herndon. “In those days, we were using obsolete airplanes in the Guard. That was hazardous work. We were losing people.”

In 1972, Mr. Bush left Texas to work on the Senate campaign and transferred to a squadron in the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing in Montgomery. He apparently missed drills during the election campaign, and that is why he returned later in November.

He would have held a desk job at the 187th because he was not qualified on the wing’s reconnaissance jets. “It’s quite common for a pilot and other Guard members to go to another unit in another state,” Mr. Campenni said. “We can ‘pull drills’ there and get credit for your duty in your state.”

Mr. Bush left the Guard six months early to attend Harvard business school and was honorably discharged in October 1973.

Many pilots resigned from the Guard before completing their enlistment term in those years. President Nixon was withdrawing thousands of troops from Vietnam, delivering a surplus of pilots to the active Air Force and the Air Guard.

• Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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