WASHINGTON – Newly unearthed memos state George W. Bush was suspended from flying for the Texas Air National Guard (search) during the Vietnam war because he failed to meet Guard standards and failed to take his annual flight physical as required.
The suspension came as Bush was trying to arrange a transfer to non-flying status with a unit in Alabama so he could work on a political campaign there.
A memo written a year later referred to one military official "pushing to sugar coat" Bush's evaluation.
"On this date I ordered that 1st Lt. Bush be suspended from flight status due to failure to perform to USAF/TexANG standards and failure to meet annual physical examination ... as ordered," says an Aug. 1, 1972 memo by Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, who is now dead.
The same memo notes that Bush was trying to transfer to non-flying status out of state and recommends that the Texas unit fill his flying slot "with a more seasoned pilot from the list of qualified Vietnam pilots that have rotated."
The Vietnam-era documents add details to the bare-bones explanation of Bush's aides over the years that he was suspended simply because he decided to skip his flight physical.
The White House said in February that it had released all records of Bush's service, but one of Killian's memos stated it was "for record" and another directing Bush to take the physical exam stated that it was "for 1st Lt. George W. Bush."
"I can't explain why that wouldn't be in his record, but they were found in Jerry Killian's personal records," White House communications director Dan Bartlett told CBS's "60 Minutes II," which first obtained the memos.
Bartlett said Bush's superiors granted permission to train in Alabama in a non-flying status and that "many of the documents you have here affirm just that."
A memo dated May 19, 1972, five days after Bush was supposed to have completed his physical, summarizes a telephone discussion with Bush about how he "can get out of coming to drill from now through November." It says Bush was "told he could do ET for three months or transfer." ET referred to equivalent training, a procedure for meeting training requirements without attending regularly scheduled drills.
The same memo says "we talked abut him getting his flight physical situation fixed" and quotes Bush as saying he would "do that in Alabama if he stays in a flight status." It also says, I advised him of our investment in him and his commitment."
Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe (search) said, "George W. Bush's cover story on his National Guard service is rapidly unraveling. ... George W. Bush needs to answer why he regularly mislead the American people about his time in the Guard and who applied political pressure on his behalf to have his performance reviews 'sugarcoated'"
Bartlett told CBS, "As it says in your own documents, President Bush talked to the commanders about the fact that he'd be transferring to a unit ... in Alabama that didn't fly that plane," the F-102, the type Bush was trained in.
Using only last names, one of the newly disclosed documents points to sharp disagreement among Bush's superiors in Texas over how to evaluate his performance for the period from mid-1972 through mid-1973.
"Staudt has obviously pressured Hodges more about Bush," Killian wrote on Aug. 18, 1973. "I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job - Harris gave me a message today from Grp regarding Bush's OETR and Staudt is pushing to sugar coat it. Bush wasn't here during rating period and I don't have any comments from 187th in Alabama. I will not rate." Grp refers to a military unit and OETR stands for officer efficiency training report.
The memo concludes: "Harris took the call from Grp today. I'll backdate but won't rate. Harris agrees."
At the time, Walter B. Staudt was commander of the Texas National Guard; Lt. Col. Bobby Hodges was one of Bush's superiors in Texas who two years earlier had rated Bush an outstanding young pilot; and Lt. Col. William D. Harris Jr. was another superior of Bush's.
Records released this year when Bush's military service re-emerged as a campaign issue contain no evidence that he showed up for duty at all for five months in mid-1972 and document only a few occasions later that year.
Asked about Killian's statement in a memo about the military's investment in Bush, Bartlett told CBS: "For anybody to try to interpret or presume they know what somebody who is now dead was thinking in any of these memos, I think is very difficult to do."