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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Bush Sr. Hailed Son in Guard

In a 1968 letter released by the Pentagon, the 41st president describes Bush as 'gung ho'

September 18, 2004|Stephen Braun and Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — President Bush's father told an Air Force major general that his son was a "gung ho" military man and predicted "he will make a good pilot as well," according to documents released Friday by the Pentagon.

The elder Bush's praise came in a letter written to Maj. Gen. G.B. Greene Jr., who in 1968 commanded the military training center in San Antonio where the younger Bush was undergoing basic training.

The letter, written when the elder Bush was a Republican congressman representing Houston, came a few months after his son had enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard, an arrangement that many critics described as a move sheltering him from duty in Vietnam.

Greene had apparently written to Rep. Bush commending his son's performance in the early phase of his training. It was unclear whether Greene's letter to Bush showed special interest in the young enlistee or was a perfunctory letter sent out to all trainees' families.

The Bush letter and nearly 200 pages of historical National Guard reports were released Friday following a renewed surge of controversy over the president's military service in the late 1960s and early '70s. In this election year, the White House has repeatedly released new documents despite its insistence earlier that all available material had been made public.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the letter was a typical parental reaction. "Obviously, it's just a letter from a proud father after his son was already in training," she said.

But Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe suggested the note showed preferential treatment. "These documents demonstrate yet again that George Bush was a fortunate son who received special consideration unavailable to the average American," McAuliffe said.

The latest batch of documents did not include the initial letter from Greene to the senior Bush.

In his letter to Greene, dated Sept. 11, 1968, and written on congressional stationery, the elder Bush said that he was "surprised

He said his son was "anxiously looking forward to going to flight school and with parental pride, I do have a feeling that he will be a gung ho member of the U.S. Air Force. I think that he will make a good pilot as well."

The congressman described how his son would return home from training and was "particularly enthusiastic" about his first months at the training center at Lackland Air Force Base.

"I know that the Air Force ... helped awaken the very best instincts in my son," he wrote.

"In this day and age when it has become a little bit fashionable to be critical of the military, I was delighted to see him return to our house with a real pride in the service and with a great respect for the leaders that he had encountered at Lackland."

From basic training, Bush went on to a year of extensive training on fighter jets and was promoted to a first lieutenant. He flew F-102 interceptors.

But in the spring of 1972, Bush suddenly stopped flying and transferred to inactive duty in a Guard unit in Montgomery, Ala. He went there to work on a Senate campaign for a friend of his father's.

Critics contend that he failed to report for Guard duty in Alabama and that he never completed his military obligation.

The White House has maintained that the president met his military obligations in full, pointing to his honorable discharge as proof.

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