NEW YORK Newspaper and wire service reporters from around the country are swarming around Montgomery, Ala. -- until this week perhaps best known as the home of country music legend Hank Williams -- in search of anyone who can remember President Bush serving time as a National Guardsman at the local air base in 1972. For the most part, they have come up empty so far.
The New York Times, for example, has tracked down 16 retired personnel who served at the based in 1972 and none could recall seeing Bush.
Closer to home, Alabama papers have apparently done relatively little digging at and around Dannelly Air Base, a compound located next to Montgomery's airport and home to the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group, judging from the scant reports on their online archives.
The Birmingham News did find retired Lt. Col. Reese Bricken, former commander of the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron, who lives in Montgomery. "He never did come to my squad," Bricken said, referring to Bush, in an article published Thursday. "He was never at my unit." After reviewing documents provided by the paper, Bricken added, "He was looking for a place to hang his hat, but he never came by."
The paper also spoke to retired General William Turnipseed, who remains a well-known figure due to his role in the groundbreaking story on this subject by Walter Robinson in The Boston Globe in 2000. Turnipseed told the Birmingham News that he still doesn't remember Bush "showing up" and that former unit members who have contacted him couldn't remember Bush either.
Turnipseed said he remains a Bush supporter and complained, "I'm fed up. People want me to give them something to bash Bush."
The paper, however, did find one person who met Bush back then. Joe LeFevers, a member of the 187th in 1972, said he remembers seeing Bush in unit offices, and being told he was in Montogmery to work on an election campaign.
Local sentiment in conservative Alabama may be against much journalistic probing. A reader's comment in The Huntsville Times held that "George Bush was never AWOL" and simply missed one meeting and made it up. "He has done nothing wrong," the reader continued. "Stop your whining!"
The Associated Press also tracked down several members of the Guard unit but they said in interviews they didn't remember ever seeing Bush at the base. "All were quick to point out that it was a large unit with up to 800 members and Bush was not a celebrity then," the AP reported.
An editorial in USA Today argued that this "persistent digging isn't irrelevant" but the details of what the candidates for President "did to cope with an unpopular war 30 years ago is less important than their vision and insight today."
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