This is an emotional topic for the Mandarin, and the crushing irony of Shrub's semi-triumphant trip to Hanoi is almost unbearable.
The short version of the story, for my younger readers, is that Shrub avoided fighting in Vietnam because his daddy’s friends jumped him ahead of an eighteen-month waiting list and got him into the Texas Air National Guard (TxANG) despite his being unqualified for appointment.
His six-year military obligation began on 27 May 1968. A few months later, he was commissioned an officer without having taken any of the three required routes to an officer’s rank: ROTC (the Mandarin’s route), Officer Candidate School (OCS), or a direct commission after at least eighteen months active duty service as an enlisted man. The program under which his commission was fast-tracked was usually reserved for medical doctors or other critical specialists.
In return for an immediate assignment to pilot training, he agreed to serve as an active pilot in the TxANG for five years following graduation. He graduated on 29 Nov 1969, making his obligation to be on continuous flying duty until the end of November 1974.
Shrub was assigned as an F-102 pilot to the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS) in Houston, once again being jumped to the head of the line - this time a number of more experienced pilots, some of whom had been waiting more than a year for a slot in this highly desirable unit. As a pilot on active flying status, Shrub was obligated to complete at least 36 flying days a year, including one weekend a month (hence we active duty officers called them “weekend warriors”) and one two-week summer training camp. He served honorably until April 1972. That was the month the Air Force began requiring drug testing as part of the annual pilot’s physical exam.
Shrub disobeyed a written order to complete such a physical in May 1972. His last flight as a TxANG pilot was on 17 Apr 1972, more than 31 months short of his five-year flying obligation. By then, he was not even flying the F-102. A few months before that date, he had been ordered to take remedial training flights in a two-seat trainer (the T-33). At the time, this was an unequivocal sign of performance problems in the cockpit. His military pilot status was formally revoked on 1 Aug 1972 for having failed to appear for his annual flight physical and mandatory drug test.
Around that time, without permission, he moved from Houston to Alabama for a few months to work on a political campaign. He was AWOL for the months of May through September 1972, failing to appear for his required one weekend a month of training. He trained intermittently in Alabama beginning in October. He was also paid for a few days of training in Houston, but no one at the 111th FIS remembered ever seeing him there on the dates in question. He did not accumulate the required days for the fiscal year ending 30 Jun 1973. He also disobeyed written orders to attend the mandatory two-week summer training camp in 1973.
The 1973 personnel evaluation by his home unit, the 111th FIS, was submitted blank, the author citing Shrub’s failure to appear at the unit at any time during the year ending 30 Jun 1973.
In September 1973, Shrub requested a transfer to a reserve Unit in Boston so he could begin the Harvard MBA program. That request was not approved, but he moved to Boston anyway and did not attempt to join any reserve unit there.
The following month, he received a disciplinary discharge from the TxANG and was transferred to the books of the Air Force reserve, where he was liable for immediate call-up. By then, the war was over, the last US combat forces having been withdrawn five months earlier. He remained in that status for over a year and was discharged from the military service on 21 Nov 1974. He had not attended any required training in the previous seventeen months, or flown an airplane since April 1972.
This is a photo of Shrub's F102, cockpit empty and waiting for his return. Mission accomplished?
A detailed time-line follows, extracted from publicly-available excerpts from Shrub's actual military personnel record, with hot links to relevant documents.
Note: the six disputed “Killian” memos that Dan Rather presented on CBS News (and for which he lost his job) are included here in their correct chronological position, but are clearly marked “unauthenticated.” The material released by the White House itself is abundantly sufficient to establish dereliction of duty.
17 Jan 68
Takes the Air Force Pilot Qualification test. Scores 25%, the lowest acceptable score. (Some give date as 19 Jan)
30 Jan 1968
Tet Offensive begins in Vietnam.
27 May 68
Accepted into the Texas Air National Guard (TxANG), the same day he interviewed with General Staudt, the Commanding Officer of the TxANG, despite an 18-month waiting list at the height of the war in Vietnam. Ben Barnes -- then Speaker of the Texas House and a friend of the Bush family -- has said on the record he arranged this as a favor to Bush Senior. Private Bush acknowledged a six-year obligation.
28 May 68
Signs agreement that if he is sent to flight school, he will serve the TxANG as a pilot for five years after graduation. Graduated 29 Nov 69, so his obligation to serve on Flying Status would run until Nov 1974.
08 Jun 68
Graduates from Yale
14 Jul 68
Initial Active Duty (Basic Training), until 25 Aug 68 at Lackland AFB, TX
03 Sep 68
Discharged from Enlisted Status
04 Sep 68
Commissioned 2LT without ROTC, OCS or required period of prior active duty (usually 18 months) through a direct commissioning program usually reserved for doctors and other specialists in high demand by the service.
04 Sep 68
Assigned to the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Ellington AFB, Texas -- despite a waiting list of already-qualified pilots. Other members of the unit, pilots and non-pilots, included the sons of
05 Sep 68
Begins an authorized two-month leave of absence to work on the Florida Senate race of Ed Gurney.
21 Nov 68
Begins one year of pilot training at Moody AFB, GA
29 Nov 69
Finished Basic Pilot Training
29 Dec 69
Begins Combat Air training (F-102)
20 Jun 70
Completes F-102 training with 300 flying hours, returns to 111th FIS as Ready Reserve pilot. To be eligible for assignment to an F-102 unit in Vietnam, 500 flying hours was the minimum. Nevertheless, Bush volunteered for a three-month temporary rotation to Vietnam, but was turned down for that reason.
30 Jun 70
USAF decides all overseas F-102 units will be deactivated and their missions shifted to units flying newer aircraft.
Authorized leave of absence through November to work on Bush Senior's campaign.
03 Nov 70
Promoted to First Lieutenant.
01 Jun 71
Credited with 46 days of flight duty in previous year (minimum requirement was 36 days).
2 Feb 72
Unauthenticated Killian memo to Harris enquiring about Bush’s pilot certification. (1st memo)
De-rated from flying the F-102 and required to undergo remedial training in a two-seat training aircraft (the T-33), usually a sign of pilot performance problems.
Early this year, some sources claim Bush was arrested for possession and use of cocaine, did community service working at an inner-city youth outreach program and had his criminal record expunged. Other sources claim none of that ever happened. The drug issue is mentioned here because Bush’s detractors link it to his decision to disobey orders and not take any required annual flight physicals beginning in April 1972.
US Air Force announces mandatory drug tests as part of all annual flight physicals
17 Apr 72
His last flight in an F-102. He still had a Military Service Obligation to serve as a pilot on Flying Status for another 955 days (until 28 Nov 1974), but he never again flew any TxANG or other military aircraft until his famous "Mission Accomplished" stunt over thirty years later.
4 May 72
Unauthenticated Killian memo formally ordering Bush in writing to report for flight physical no later than 14 May 72.
Bush expresses the intention to relocate to
15 May 72
Bush’s last day on the base at Ellington. Beginning now, there is no evidence of attendance at any required drills or training activities for five months, technically going Absent Without Leave ("AWOL"). The usual punishment for such action, and it was enforced many times, was to be placed on a list to be called to active duty immediately, for up to two years. Bush’s time spent in pilot training in 1968-70 might have been credited against the two years, leaving him liable at the very least for say six more months of active duty, and in the worst case for the full two years.
Note: AWOL simply means any unauthorized absence. Desertion is defined as: "leaving or remaining absent from [one's] unit, organization, or place of duty, where there has been a determined intent to not return; if that intent is determined to be to avoid hazardous duty or shirk important responsibility." You decide whether Shrub was AWOL or a deserter.
19 May 72
Unauthenticated Killian memo regarding his conversation with Bush, who wanted to get out of training in Texas and do it in Alabama. Killian also counseled him on having missing his physical, Bush said he may be to busy in Alabama to take care of the flight physical while he is there.
20 May 72
Per his pay records, Bush does not attend, and did not later make up, two days of mandatory training the weekend of 20-21 May.
24 May 72
Bush applies for permanent transfer out of the TxANG to the US Air Force 9921st Air Reserve Sq, Montgomery, AL. Note he entered an incorrect AFSC (occupational specialty code) of 1125B rather than 1125D. This would have incorrectly listed him on the records of the USAF Reserve as a pilot trained to fly only two types of already obsolete aircraft, the F-89 and F-94, both no longer in service. He also listed his Training Category as “G” (no drills required) instead of the correct category “A”. Bush was not legally eligible for this transfer because of his unfinished obligation as a pilot. He was still in Training Category “A”, requiring 48 half-day drill periods plus 15 active duty training days a year. Also, merely having filed an application to leave the TxANG did not relieve him of his obligation to continue drills in
26 May 72
Commanding officer of 9921st accepts Bush, but cautions him the 9921st is not a "ready reserve" unit and training there may not satisfy his MSO (military service obligation). This unit was a training category “G” unit – also called a “postal unit” because its members had completed their Military Service Obligation and were no longer required to attend any drills.
01 Jun 72
Credited with 22 days of flight duty in previous year, which was 12 days short of his minimum requirement of 36.
Per his pay records, Bush was not credited with or paid for any training in or attributable to Jun 72, rendering him technically AWOL or a deserter, depending on his intent (see above).
Per his pay records, Bush was not credited with or paid for any training in or attributable to Jul 72, rendering him technically AWOL or a deserter, depending on his intent (see above).
31 Jul 72
HQ Air Reserve Center,
Per his pay records, Bush was not credited with or paid for any training in or attributable to Aug 72, rendering him technically AWOL or a deserter, depending on his intent (see above).
01 Aug 72
Unauthenticated Killian memo reports revoking flight status for failing to meet TxANG/USAF standards including failure to take physical. Comments Bush has made no effort to meet his certification requirements. Also reports he has directed a Flight Review Board be convened, a very serious matter for a military pilot. Bush's flying status was formally revoked in these written orders on the same date.
3 Aug 72
Memo from Major Shoemake, TxANG Personnel officer, to Bush’s unit - rebuking them for having submitted an unacceptable transfer application for Bush.
Per his pay records, Bush was not credited with or paid for any training in or attributable to Sep 72, rendering him technically AWOL or a deserter, depending on his intent (see above).
05 Sep 72
Bush requests permission to perform “equivalent duty” (meaning substitute drills in Alabama
15 Sep 72
Request to perform equivalent duty with 187th for Sep-Nov approved, but the September drill date had already passed when the request was granted.
07 Oct 72
Bush invited to report to 187th for equivalent duty Sat/Sun 7/8 Oct 72. Both the Commanding Officer and the Personnel Officer of this unit said in later interviews that he did not appear at any time in 1972 to train with them.
28/29 Oct 72
Per his pay records, paid for two days training in Alabama
04 Nov 72
Bush was invited to report to 187th for equivalent duty Sat/Sun 4/5 Nov 72. The Commanding Officer and the Personnel Officer of this unit said in later interviews that he did not appear to train with them.
11/12 Nov 72
Per his pay records, paid for two days training in Alabama to make up Nov 72 training due in Texas.
13/14 Nov 72
Per his pay records, paid for two days training in Alabamato make up Dec 72 training due in Texas.
4/5 Jan 73
Per his pay records, paid for two days training in Alabama to make up Jan 73 training due in Texas.
6/8 Jan 73
Per his pay records, paid for two days training in Alabama to make up Feb 73 training due in Texas, 35 days early and therefore contrary to regulations limiting substitute training to no more than 30 days ahead of time, rendering him technically AWOL or a deserter, depending on his intent (see above), for February 1973.
9/10 Jan 73
Per his pay records, paid for two days training in Alabama to make up Mar 73 training due in Texas, 60 days early and therefore contrary to regulations limiting substitute training to no more than 30 days ahead of time, rendering him technically AWOL or a deserter, depending on his intent (see above), for March 1973.
27 Jan 73
Paris peace talks result in a cease-fire agreement in Vietnam.
Last U.S. combat forces depart Vietnam, leaving behind only a small group of advisors and enough Marines to guard the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.
7/8 Apr 73
Per his pay records, paid for two days training with 111th in Texas, but that unit's Commanding Officer later wrote that Bush was not present. Had he actually been there, it would have been Bush’s first actual day training with his unit in
1 May 73
Ordered to attend summer “active duty for training” at Ellington during the period 22 May - 7 Jun 73. He disobeyed this order and did not attend.
02 May 73
19/20 May 73
Per his pay records, paid for two days training with 111th in Texas.
22 May 73
During this period, until 30 Jul 73, Bush was credited with 35 reserve points on a form that does not explain what they were for. Early version, unaltered or incomplete. Later version, altered or more fully filled in.
23/24 Jun 73
Per his pay records, paid for two days training with 111th in Texas.
23 Jun 73
24 Jun 73
Unauthenticated Killian memo to a superior officer saying that Harris and he cannot rate Bush for full year ending 30 Apr 73 because he had not trained with the 111th after April 1972. Killian further comments that, “His recent activity is outside the rating period,” supporting evidence that Bush had finally returned to the unit after 30 Apr 73 to begin makeup drills. (5th memo)
16/17 Jul 73
Per his pay records, paid for two days training with 111th in place of training due in Aug 73, 33 days early and therefore contrary to regulations limiting substitute training to be done no more than 30 days ahead of time.
18/19 Jul 73
Per his pay records, paid for two days training with 111th in place of training due in Sep 73, 66 days early and therefore contrary to regulations limiting substitute training to be done no more than 30 days ahead of time.
21/22 Jul 73
Per his pay records, paid for two days training with 111th.
18 Aug 73
Unauthenticated “CYA” memo by Killian saying the brass want him to write a fake annual evaluation for Bush, but that he would refuse because Bush had not been with the unit that year and he had no info from the Alabama Air National Guard to support a review. Says he would backdate the review but not assign Bush a fitness rating.
5 Sep 73
Requests discharge from TxANG and transfer to Air Reserve Personnel Center (NARS) as of 1 Oct 73 to attend Harvard. NARS stands for Non-Affiliated Reserve Section -- meaning the inactive reserve with no further obligation to attend drills or training. As a condition of his early discharge from the TxANG, Bush agreed to affiliate with another Guard or Reserve unit in
16 Oct 73
Reassigned to Air Reserve Personnel Center (ORS). The ORS is the Obligated Reserve Section – not his requested assignment of Air Reserve Personnel Center (NARS). Some personnel experts interpret this as a disciplinary action for failing to take 1972 flight physicals and missing 1973 summer camp and numerous drills. Assignment to ORS meant he was severed from the Guard and Active Reserve, placed on inactive status, and available for call to active duty. Bush’s signed acknowledgment of disciplinary reason for transfers from TxANG to Air Reserve Personnel Center (ORS). His orders. Texas ANG discharge. This was his final assignment. He remained in this status for another year without being called to active duty.
12 Nov 73
Fitness report addendum for year ending 30 Apr 73 (responding to 5 Sep 73 request for more info) says “Not Rated” for administrative reasons.
24 May 74
Original end date of Bush's six-year obligation, later extended because of his flight training agreement.
21 Nov 74
Discharged from inactive reserve, five years after completing flight school.
30 Apr 75
Saigon falls to the North Vietnamese army one day after the dramatic evacuation of the U.S. Embassy by helicopter from the rooftop.
17 Nov 06
Mandarin's head explodes to see Shrub in Hanoi, smiling under a bust of Ho Chi Minh, telling his hosts that the minor ideological differences of the 1960s and 70s should be bygones and we're all just one big happy family now.
Original picture caption (top photo): A bust of revolutionary communist leader Ho Chi Minh is seen at rear as U.S. President George W. Bush smiles before the start of his meeting with Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, not pictured, at the presidential palace in Hanoi, Vietnam, Friday, Nov. 17, 2006. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)