In November 1970, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, commander of the 111th Fighter Squadron (Texas Air National Guard), recommended that Bush be promoted to First Lieutenant, calling him "a dynamic outstanding young officer" who stood out as "a top notch fighter interceptor pilot." He said that "Lt. Bush's skills far exceed his contemporaries," and that "he is a natural leader whom his contemporaries look to for leadership. Lt. Bush is also a good follower with outstanding disciplinary traits and an impeccable military bearing.
Bush's six-year obligation to serve required him to maintain his immediate readiness as an individual and a member of a unit to be called to active duty in the event of a national emergency. Bush's military records indicate that until May 1972 he fulfilled that obligation. But from that point on, Bush failed to meet the attendance requirements established by Federal law, Department of Defense regulations, and Air Force policies and procedures for "obligated" members of the Air National Guard, and the Air Force requirement for an annual physical examination for pilots.
During the 1968–1974 period, Presidents Johnson and Nixon decided against calling up National Guard units for service in Vietnam. As a result, National Guard service was widely portrayed as a way to avoid combat. The waiting list for the Guard at that time was extremely long, and there have been charges that young men from influential families were improperly moved to the top of the list. A similar accusation was leveled at Dan Quayle, who served in the Indiana National Guard, and was Vice President from 1989 to 1993.
According to various media outlets, Bush jumped to the top of a list of over 500 applicants for his position as a pilot despite receiving the minimum passing score (25) on the pilot entrance aptitude test and listing no other qualifications. Other reports indicated that although there were many candidates interested in weekend enlisted duty, there were fewer, if any, people who were both sufficiently educated to qualify for an officer pilot position and willing to commit to the more than one year of full-time service required of Air National Guard pilots. Ben Barnes, the former Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and Lieutenant Governor of Texas, stated under oath that he had called the head of the Texas Air National Guard, Brig. Gen. James Rose, to recommend Bush for a pilot spot at the request of Bush family friend Sidney Adger. Later, Barnes repeated these claims in an interview with CBS News on September 8, 2004.
Former Texas legislator Jake Johnson has stated that before General Rose died, Rose told him that he had been responsible for Bush's acceptance into the Guard. Both George W. Bush and his father have stated that they did not ask Adger to intercede and were unaware of any action he may have taken. Walter Staudt, the colonel in command of Bush's squadron, has stated that he accepted Bush's application without receiving any outside pressure to do so. In a 1994 interview, Bush stated that he joined the Guard because "I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Nor was I willing to go to Canada. So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes.
Air National Guard members could volunteer for active duty service with the Air Force in a program called Palace Alert, which deployed F-102 pilots to Europe and Southeast Asia, including Vietnam and Thailand. According to three pilots from Bush's squadron, Bush inquired about this program but was advised by the base commander that he did not have the necessary experience (500 hours) at the time and that the F-102 was outdated.
The final two entries of Bush's official flight logs show him being assigned to work as an instructional pilot in late May 1972 at a Texas Air National Guard base. But Bush left for Alabama in mid-May (see next section) and his pay records show he wasn't paid for any work on the two dates of the instructional pilot assignment. The logs have a code indicating the assignments were eventually deleted from his official records.
As a result of his failure to take his physical, his flight status was suspended by his commander on 1 August 1972, confirmed by Col Bobby Hodges on 5 September 1972 and confirmed again by a National Guard Bureau order on September 29 1972, which meant he no longer was authorized to fly as a pilot.
The document directly orders Bush to acknowledge the suspension in writing ("Off will comply with para 2-10, AFM 35-13") but there is no evidence Bush obeyed this order and no evidence that he did not. The Air Force regulation cited here, AFM 35-13 Para 2-29m required the commander of Bush's Texas National Guard unit to "direct an investigation as to why the individual failed to accomplish the medical examination but there is no evidence this investigation ever occurred.
Following the investigation, the local commander was required to either convene a Flying Evaluation Board to review Bush’s suspension or to forward a detailed report on his case up the chain of command. Either way, there should have been a record of the investigation.
Although he had taken the physical twice previously by flight surgeons, Bush says that he wanted to wait to take the physical until it could be done by his own private doctor. Regulations require that the physical be performed by an Air Force doctor. Air Force Flight Surgeons were assigned to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, where Bush purportedly drilled in October and November 1972 and in January 1973. There is no record of his attendance in the 187th Alabama ANG. The Alabama unit’s commanders say they never saw Bush or any paperwork showing he performed drills there. However a January 1973 document references a dental exam that Bush received at the Alabama base.
There is no record of a physical being taken in either 1972 or in 1973, the last two years in which Bush attended drills. According to his released military records, Bush never flew again as a National Guard pilot after April 1972, and was suspended from flying on August 1,1972..
White House communications director Dan Bartlett and others, who called the charge election-year propaganda rebutted the charges by noting that Bush was honorably discharged and that there was no AWOL charge against him.
Released military records show that Bush's documented service record through mid-April 1972 (Bush drilled on the 15th and 16th) is without gaps. On May 24, 1972, Bush submitted a form requesting a transfer to the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron in Montgomery, Alabama. The squadron was under the command of Lt. Colonel Reese R. Bricken. Based on his application, he was already in Alabama at work on the Senate campaign of Winton M. Blount, who was a friend of his father. Jimmy Allison was a longtime family friend who helped him get the campaign work.
On May 26, Bricken, (commander of the 9921st), approved Bush’s application for transfer. Bricken wrote: “You already understand that this is a Training Category G, Pay Group None, Reserve Section MM proposition.” As an obligated Reservist, Bush was in “Training Category A,” which required the 48 periods of inactive duty training, and 15 days of active duty training, and was required to remain in that Training Category. Training Category “G” offered no training at all. According to Air Force regulations (AFM 35-3, paragraph 14-6), being in "Training Category A" meant that "If a member...will be unable to further train with his unit because of an impending change of residence,...he is required to sign a statement that he has been counseled." That counseling included notifying Bush of his obligation to find a new unit with which he could fulfill his training obligations.
Throughout this period, Bush remained obligated to train with his Texas unit, or perform substitute training each month. Bush’s records show that he is credited with no training during these months. Colonel Bricken is on record as stating that Bush made no effort to participate as a Guardsman with the 9921st.
More than a month after the ARPC rejected Bush's transfer request, on September 5, 1972, Bush requested permission to "perform equivalent duty" at the 187th Tactical Recon Group in Alabama "for the months of September, October, and November." He quickly received approval to do so, and was told to report to Lt. Col. William Turnipseed, the base commander, for drills on October 7 and 8, and November 4 and 5 (the September drill dates of the unit had already passed). Bush's grandfather, former U.S. Senator Prescott Bush, died of cancer on October 8, and Bush served as a pallbearer at the funeral in Greenwich, Connecticut. Turnipseed has said that he could not recall whether Bush reported on those occasions.
In 2004 John "Bill" Calhoun, a former Alabama Air National Guard officer who had served at the Dannelly Air National Guard Base in Montgomery, home of the 187th, claimed he had seen Bush report for duty "at least six times" between May and October 1972, and that Bush had in fact spent time in his office. However, the payment and retirement records the White House handed out three days prior to Calhoun's claims show that Bush received no pay or attendance credits from April until the end of October 1972.
A column in the Birmingham News (Alabama) elicited memories from people who remembered Bush when he was in Alabama, working for the Blount campaign: "None have specific recollections about Bush and the National Guard. Some heard he was serving but never saw for themselves." Opinions of him during this time ranged from good (amiable, well liked, and fond of sports) to bad (bragging about drinking and allegations he trashed a cottage where he was living). Winton Blount's son Tom said "He was an attractive person, kind of a 'frat boy.' I didn't like him.
Between 1972 and 1973, Bush dated Mavanee Bear, another member of Blount's campaign staff. Bear stated "I know he served" because he had to regularly reschedule meetings, but also stated "I didn't see him in uniform." When later back in Texas, she frequently saw him in uniform, stating "I think he was mostly just flying in circles over Houston.
Back in Houston, in late 1972 or early 1973, Bush did unpaid volunteer work for a number of months with an inner-city poverty program, Project P.U.L.L. (Professional United Leadership League) the brainchild of John White, a former professional football player and civic leader. The April service presumably occurred at his home base, Ellington Air Force Base, in Houston. However there is nothing in the released documents showing that he actually reported on those days, or where, or what duties he performed.
In a document dated May 2, 1973, Bush's immediate superiors gave him his annual performance review for the period from May 1, 1972 to April 30, 1973. The review stated that "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of the report." Lt. Col. William D. Harris Jr. and Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian also wrote, "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."
For May 1973, Bush was paid for service on 1–3, 8–11, 19–20, 22–24, and 29–31 May. For June, he was paid for 5 days; for July (his last month of drilling) for 19 days. As of the end of July, 1973, he had been in the National Guard for a little over five years.
Lawrence Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for President Ronald Reagan, has reviewed the payroll records for Bush's last two years of service, and concluded that they indicate that Bush did not fulfill his obligations and could have been ordered to active duty as a result.
On September 5, 1973, Bush requested discharge from service, to be effective on October 1. He wrote, "I am moving to Boston, Massachusetts to attend Harvard Business School as a full time student. Jerry Killian recommended approval of the discharge the following day. Bush had completed five years, four months, and five days toward his six-year service obligation.
On October 1, 1973, Bush was honorably discharged from the Texas Air National Guard and transferred to the inactive reserves in Denver, Colorado. He was discharged from the Air Force Reserve on November 21, 1974 thus completing his service to the guard.
On February 13, 2004, more than 700 additional pages of documents on Bush's service were released, including those from the National Personnel Records Center, under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. This release is claimed by some to contradict the February 8, 2004, statement by Bush to Meet the Press interviewer Tim Russert that "We did [authorize the release of everything] in 2000, by the way." In response, Bush contended that he was referring only to documents already in his possession, as opposed to the newly released documents from military sources.
On July 8, 2004, the Pentagon reported that the microfilmed payroll records of Bush and numerous other service members had been inadvertently ruined in 1996 and 1997 by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service during a project to salvage deteriorating microfilm. The records lost included those covering July through September 1972, when Bush's claims of service in Alabama are in question, and the Pentagon reported that no paper backups could be found. CBS News military analyst Mitch Mitchell said there is no uniform or standard filing form and that most observers agree that National Guard records from that period are a mess.
On July 23, 2004, the Pentagon reported that the records it had previously reported destroyed had been found. A Pentagon official said the earlier statement that the records were destroyed was an "inadvertent oversight." The Pentagon released computerized payroll records covering Bush's 1972 service. Like the records released earlier by the White House, the newly released documents did not indicate that Bush performed any drills, in Alabama or elsewhere, during July through September 1972.
On September 7, 2004, the White House released the flight logs recording the flights done by Bush as a pilot. A Pentagon spokeswoman said the logs were found at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, which is the central repository for veterans' records. She said the logs were found among a batch of records sent to St. Louis from Norton Air Force Base in 1993, which were originally thought to contain records of active-duty officers rather than of National Guardsmen such as Bush.
On September 24, 2004, under court order resulting from an earlier FOIA lawsuit filed by the Associated Press, the Pentagon releases more documents.
On September 29, 2004, the White House released a November 1974 document, saying it had been in Bush's personnel file and that it had been found by the Pentagon.
On October 5, 2004, more than a week after a court-imposed deadline to turn over all records of Bush's military service, the Texas Air National Guard produced two previously unreleased documents (four pages of records) that include Bush's orders for his last day of active duty in 1973.
On October 14, 2004, two weeks after Texas National Guard officials signed an oath swearing they had turned over all records, the Texas National Guard released 31 additional pages of documents found by two retired Army lawyers who went through Guard files under an agreement between the Texas National Guard and The Associated Press, which sued to gain access to the files. A Guard spokesman defended the continuing discoveries, saying Guard officials didn’t find all of Bush’s records because they are disorganized and in poor shape. "These boxes are full of dirt and rat (excrement) and dead bugs. They have never been sitting in an uncontrolled climate," said Lt. Col. John Stanford. "It’s a tough task to go through archives that were not set up in a way that you could easily go through them."
The forgery allegations subsequently came to the attention of the mainstream media, especially after some experts also questioned the documents' authenticity and lack of a chain of custody. The original documents have never been submitted for authentication. The man who delivered the copies, Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, a former officer in the Texas Army National Guard, claims that he burned the originals.
CBS and Dan Rather initially defended the documents and the report, but on September 20, CBS News stated that it had been "misled" and that it could not authenticate the documents and should not have used them. CBS then formed an independent panel headed by former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and retired Associated Press president Louis D. Boccardi to investigate the story and the handling of the Killian memos. The final report of the panel, while not addressing the authenticity of the documents, faulted many of the decisions made in developing the story, and producer Mary Mapes along with three others were forced to resign from CBS News. Prior to the panel report being completed, Rather announced the date of his retirement, left "60 Minutes Wednesday", stepped down as anchor on March 9, 2006, and then left CBS altogether on June 20, 2006. The CBS news show that had aired the memos, "60 Minutes Wednesday" was canceled on May 18, 2005, allegedly due to poor ratings and not because of the memos broadcast. In September, 2007, Rather sued CBS and its former parent company, Viacom, for US$70 million, claiming that he had been made a "scapegoat" over the memos story.