Monday, March 22, 2004

No AWOL takers

The unanswered questions about George W. Bush's military record continue to go unanswered -- which is becoming, in a way, a kind of answer in itself.

Some of you may recall that, a few weeks ago, Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau put up a significant offer: He would pay $10,000 to any National Guard veteran who could step forward and prove that he had served with Bush in Alabama. If no one did, he'd donate that amount to the USO.

Well, the results are in: No one came forward, and so the money is going to the USO:
Alas, none of the over 1600 entries we received qualified for the proferred $10,000.Three carefully and arbitrarily selected runner-ups were posted on the Straw Poll site, where DTH&WP readers passed judgement on them. Here are those submissions, and the prizes they have won -- followed by a generous and representative sampling of the entries that overflowed our in-box. We truly appreciate the efforts of all those who selflessly joined us in our efforts to take the Bush Guard story out of play.

This perhaps shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, a couple of veterans' groups have been offering a $1,000 cash reward for anyone to step forward and establish Bush's presence at the Alabama Guard base since 2000. No one ever has.

Bush's defenders keep pointing to the testimony of one "Bill" Calhoun, who claims he served with Bush in Alabama the summer and fall of 1972 -- even though records clearly show Bush wasn't there when Calhoun says he was. Interestingly, however, Calhoun has never come forward to collect any of these rewards -- perhaps because doing so would mean he'd be at risk of perjuring himself.

And there's a reason no one else has bothered to do so -- the numbers of people who could have served with Bush in Alabama are really quite small, and none of the rest of his fellow veterans can recall Bush arriving at the base at all. That was one of the points of the Memphis Flyer story that interviewed others who were in the Alabama Guard at that time, including two who were looking for Bush to show his face:
Though some accounts reckon the total personnel component of the 187th as consisting of several hundred, the actual flying squadron -- that to which Bush was reassigned -- numbered only "25 to 30 pilots," Mintz said. "There's no doubt. I would have heard of him, seen him, whatever."

Even if Bush, who was trained on a slightly different aircraft than the F4 Phantom jets flown by the squadron, opted not to fly with the unit, he would have had to encounter the rest of the flying personnel at some point, in non-flying formations or drills. “And if he did any flying at all, on whatever kind of craft, that would have involved a great number of supportive personnel. It takes a lot of people to get a plane into the air. But nobody I can think of remembers him.

“I talked to one of my buddies the other day and asked if he could remember Bush at drill at any time, and he said, ‘Naw, ol’ George wasn’t there. And he wasn’t at the Pit, either.’”

The “Pit” was The Snake Pit, a nearby bistro where the squadron’s pilots would gather for frequent after-hours revelry. And the buddy was Bishop, then a lieutenant at Dannelly and now a pilot for Kalitta, a charter airline that in recent months has been flying war materiel into the Iraq Theater of Operations

“I never saw hide nor hair of Mr. Bush,” confirms Bishop. . "In fact," he quips, mindful of the current political frame of reference, "I saw more of Al Sharpton at the base than I did of George W. Bush."

These same veterans, who remember Calhoun as well, are clearly skeptical of Calhoun's story (which is putting it nicely):
Bishop was even more explicit. “I’m glad he [Calhoun] remembered being with Lt. Bush and Lt. Bush’s eating sandwiches and looking at manuals. It seems a little strange that one man saw an individual, and all the rest of them did not. Because it was such a small organization. Usually, we all had lunch together.

“Maybe we’re all getting old and senile,” Bishop said with obvious sarcasm. “I don’t want to second-guess Mr. Calhoun’s memory and I would hate to impugn the integrity of a fellow officer, but I know the rest of us didn’t see Lt. Bush.” As Bishop (corroborated by Mintz) described the physical environment, the safety office where the meetings between Major Calhoun and Lt. Bush allegedly took place was on the second floor of the unit’s hangar, a relatively small structure itself... It was a very close-quarters situation “ It would have been “virtually impossible,” said Bishop, for an officer to go in and out of the safety office for eight hours a month several months in a row and be unseen by anybody except then Major Calhoun.

In the meantime, Doonesbury again tackled the subject in Sunday's strip -- rather pointedly, I might add.

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