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Bush Bows to Rival's 'Heroic' Military Service

He concedes Kerry was 'in harm's way' but urges both sides to drop debate over Vietnam.

August 29, 2004|From Times Wire Reports

President Bush on Saturday described Sen. John F. Kerry's tour of duty in Vietnam as more heroic than his own service in the Texas Air National Guard, saying his Democratic rival had been "in harm's way."

But the president told NBC's "Today" show that both sides should drop the debate over their wartime service. "I think that we ought to move beyond the past.... The real question is who best to lead us forward."

Asked if he believed that he and Kerry "served on the same level of heroism," Bush replied, "No, I don't. I think him going to Vietnam was more heroic than my flying fighter jets. He was in harm's way and I wasn't."

Excerpts of the interview, conducted Saturday for broadcast Monday, were released by NBC.

The president continued to defend his own service, saying, "On the other hand, I served my country. Had my unit been called up, I would have gone."

Those remarks came as statements concerning Bush's National Guard service by former Texas House Speaker Ben Barnes were publicized.

Barnes said he was "more ashamed at myself than I've ever been" because he helped Bush and the sons of other wealthy families get into the Texas National Guard so they could avoid serving in Vietnam.

"I got a young man named George W. Bush into the National Guard

Barnes, who was House speaker when Bush entered the Guard, later became lieutenant governor.

The video was posted June 25 on the website but didn't get much attention until Friday, when Jim Moore, an Austin-based author of books critical of Bush, sent out e-mails calling attention to it.

Bush joined the Air National Guard in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, and served until 1973. He has said he received no special treatment.

Kerry's war record in Vietnam has dominated the presidential campaign in recent weeks, after disputed advertisements by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth accused him of lying about the events that led to his decorations for bravery.

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