WASHINGTON – President Bush released hundreds of pages of his military records Friday in an effort to counter growing talk that he might have shirked his duty while serving in the Texas Air National Guard (search) more than thirty years ago.
The documents, many of which were duplicates, provided details about Bush’s service in the Guard from 1968 until 1973. The president’s medical records, dozens of pages in all, were also opened to reporters in the Roosevelt Room (search), but were not allowed to be taken out of the room.
Democrats have wondered, especially in recent weeks as the 2000 presidential race heats up, whether Bush showed up for temporary duty in Alabama while serving on a political campaign between May of 1972 and May of 1973. The documents released Friday provided no new evidence that he was in Alabama during that time.
A retired Alabama Air National Guard (search) officer, however, said he remembers Bush being in Alabama in 1972, reading safety magazines and flight manuals in an office as he performed his weekend obligations.
"I saw him each drill period," retired Lt. Col. John "Bill" Calhoun (search) said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Daytona Beach, Fla.
Calhoun, whose name was supplied to The Associated Press by a Republican close to Bush, is the first member of the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group (search) to recall Bush distinctly at the Alabama base in the period of 1972-1973. He was the unit's flight safety officer.
The records shown Friday indicate that Bush, a pilot, was suspended from flying status beginning Aug. 1, 1972, because of his failure to have an annual medical examination. His last flight exam was on May 15, 1971.
Reports differ on which months Bush was in Alabama, but generally, it's believed that he asked for permission to continue his duties at the 187th TAC Recon Group, Montgomery, in May 1972 and returned to his Texas unit after the November election. The White House says Bush went back to Alabama again after that.
Bush has been dealing with questions over his military record in each of his political campaigns since 1994. The issue reared its head again this year when Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Bush had been AWOL -- absent without leave -- during his time in Alabama.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush had fulfilled his pledge to release all his records. "Our understanding is that this is the entire file," he said. "The record documents that the accusations by some are false."
But Democrats did not scale back their criticism.
"Hopefully these are all the documents," said Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Debra DeShong. "Each revelation of material from the Bush White House has raised more questions than it has answered. It remains to be seen if these newest documents will provide any answers."
Thirteen pages of payroll records and retirement point summaries released earlier in the week showed Bush was paid for 25 days during the period from May to May, 1972-73.
But those records did not say where Bush served or what duty he performed.
He was not paid for any service during a more than five-month period in 1972, from April 17 to Oct. 27. He was paid for two days in late October of that year, four days in mid-November and no days in December. He was paid for additional days in 1973.
The White House also earlier in the week released a copy of a dental exam Bush received at Dannelly Air National Guard Base in Alabama on Jan. 6, 1973, as proof that Bush had physically been at the base and served there.
His medical checks, from 1968 through 1971, show no signs of illness at the time except for a brief episode of hemorrhoid symptoms.
"Examinee denies loss of consciousness, motion sickness or other significant medical or surgical history," the examining physician concurred. All tests listed as performed, including an EKG, chest X-ray and ear test for altitude, came back normal; neurological, psychiatric and other checkoffs were normal; blood tests showed no signs of infection.
His flying exam expired on his birthday, July 6, 1972, said White House communications director Dan Bartlett.
He didn't take his next exam because "he was in non-flying capacity in another state" and knew he'd be there for months. "There was no need or reason for him to take a flying exam.
Allegations that he ducked that physical are "just outrageously false," Bartlett said.
A performance evaluation at Ellington Air Force Base in Texas, covering the period from May 1, 1972 to April 30, 1973, could not rate Bush because, wrote Lt. Col. William D. Harris, Jr., "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of the report."
"A civilian occupation made it necessary for him to move to Montgomery, Ala. He cleared this base on 15 May 1972 and has been performing equivalent training in a non-flying status with the 187 Tac Recon Gp. Dannelly ANG Base, Alabama," it said.