MEMPHIS – Two members of the Air National Guard unit that President George W. Bush allegedly served with as a young Guard flyer in 1972 had been told to expect him and were on the lookout for him. He never showed, however; of that both Bob Mintz and Paul Bishop are certain.
The question of Bush’s presence in 1972 at Dannelly Air National Guard base in Montgomery, Alabama – or the lack of it – has become an issue in the 2004 presidential campaign.
Recalls Memphian Mintz, now 62: “I remember that I heard someone was coming to drill with us from Texas. And it was implied that it was somebody with political influence. I was a young bachelor then. I was looking for somebody to prowl around with.” But, says Mintz, that “somebody” -- better known to the world now as the president of the United States -- never showed up at Dannelly in 1972. Nor in 1973, nor at any time that Mintz, a FedEx pilot now and an Eastern Airlines pilot then, when he was a reserve first lieutenant at Dannelly, can remember.
Bob "Buck" Mintz in his Germantown, Tennessee den.
“And I was looking for him,” repeated Mintz, who said that he assumed that Bush “changed his mind and went somewhere else” to do his substitute drill. It was not “somewhere else,” however, but the 187th Air National Guard Tactical squadron at Dannelly to which the young Texas flyer had requested transfer from his regular Texas unit – the reason being Bush’s wish to work in Alabama on the ultimately unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign of family friend Winton "Red" Blount.
It is the 187th, Mintz’s unit, which was cited, during the 2000 presidential campaign, as the place where Bush completed his military obligation. And it is the 187th that the White House continues to contend that Bush belonged to – as recently as this week, when presidential spokesman Scott McClellan released payroll records and, later, evidence suggesting that Bush’s dental records might be on file at Dannelly.
“There’s no way we wouldn’t have noticed a strange rooster in the henhouse, especially since we were looking for him,” insists Mintz, who has pored over documents relating to the matter now making their way around the Internet. One of these is a piece of correspondence addressed to the 187th’s commanding officer, then Lt. Col. William Turnipseed, concerning Bush’s redeployment.
Mintz remembers a good deal of base scuttlebutt at the time about the letter, which clearly identifies Bush as the transferring party. “It couldn’t be anybody else. No one ever did that again, as far as I know.” In any case, he is certain that nobody else in that time frame, 1972-73, requested such a transfer into Dannelly.
Mintz, who at one time was a registered Republican and in recent years has cast votes in presidential elections for independent Ross Perot and Democrat Al Gore, confesses to “a negative reaction” to what he sees as out-and-out dissembling on President Bush’s part. “You don’t do that as an officer, you don’t do that as a pilot, you don’t do it as an important person, and you don’t do it as a citizen. This guy’s got a lot of nerve.”
Though some accounts reckon the total personnel component of the 187th as consisting of several hundred, the actual flying squadron – that to which Bush was reassigned – numbered only “25 to 30 pilots,” Mintz said. “There’s no doubt. I would have heard of him, seen him, whatever.” Even if Bush, who was trained on a slightly different aircraft than the F4 Phantom jets flown by the squadron, opted not to fly with the unit, he would have had to encounter the rest of the flying personnel at some point, in non-flying formations or drills. “And if he did any flying at all, on whatever kind of craft, that would have involved a great number of supportive personnel. It takes a lot of people to get a plane into the air. But nobody I can think of remembers him.
“I talked to one of my buddies the other day and asked if he could remember Bush at drill at any time, and he said, ‘Naw, ol’ George wasn’t there. And he wasn’t at the Pit, either.’”
The “Pit” was The Snake Pit, a nearby bistro where the squadron’s pilots would gather for frequent after-hours revelry. And the buddy was Bishop, then a lieutenant at Dannelly and now a pilot for Kalitta, a charter airline that in recent months has been flying war materiel into the Iraq Theater of Operations.
“I never saw hide nor hair of Mr. Bush,” confirms Bishop, who now lives in Goldsboro, N.C., is a veteran of Gulf War I and, as a Kalitta pilot, has himself flown frequent supply missions into military facilities at Kuwait. "In fact," he quips, mindful of the current political frame of reference, "I saw more of Al Sharpton at the base than I did of George W. Bush."
Bishop voted for Bush in 2000 and believes that the Iraq war has served some useful purposes – citing, as the White House does, disarmament actions since pursued by Libyan president Moammar Khadaffi – but he is disgruntled both about aspects of the war and about what he sees as Bush’s lack of truthfulness about his military record.
Paul Bishop (l) with two ANG mates in the '70s.
“I think a commander-in-chief who sends his men off to war ought to be a veteran who has seen the sting of battle,” Bishop says. “In Iraq: we have a bunch of great soldiers, but they are not policemen. I don’t think he [the president] was well advised; right now it’s costing us an American life a day. I’m not a peacenik, but what really bothers me is that of the 500 or so that we’ve lost almost 80 of them were reservists. We’ve got an over-extended Guard and reserve.”
Part of the problem, Bishop thinks, is a disconnect resulting from the president’s own inexperience with combat operations. And he is well beyond annoyed at the White House’s persistent claims that Bush did indeed serve time at Dannelly. Bishop didn’t pay much attention to the claim when candidate Bush first offered it in 2000. But he did after the second Iraq war started and the issue came front and center.
“It bothered me that he wouldn’t ‘fess up and say, Okay, guys, I cut out when the rest of you did your time. He shouldn’t have tried to dance around the subject. I take great exception to that. I spent 39 years defending my country.”
Like his old comrade Mintz, Bishop, now 65, was a pilot for Eastern Airlines during their reserve service in 1972 at Dannelly. Mintz then lived in Montgomery; Bishop commuted from Atlanta, a two-hour drive away. Mintz and Bishop retired from the Guard with the ranks of lieutenant colonel and colonel, respectively.
Bishop, especially, is bitter about the fate of Eastern, which went bankrupt during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, the current incumbent’s father. “I watched my company dissolve under his policies.” Both Bushes were “children of privilege,” unlike himself and Mintz.
“Our fathers were poor dirt farmers. We would not have been given the same considerations he and his father were,” says Bishop, who maintains that, just as the junior Bush used family and political influence to jump himself ahead of 500 other flight training applicants, the senior Bush "apparently" did, too, when he became a naval aviator during World War Two. “I applaud him for volunteering, but he should have waited his turn like everybody else.”
But, says Bishop, “At least I can give him credit for serving his country.” That is more, he suggested, than can be granted the younger Bush.
Would he consider voting for the president’s reelection? “Naw, this goes to an integrity issue. I like either [John] Kerry or [John] Edwards better.” And who would Mintz be voting for? “Not for any Texas politicians,” was the Memphian’s sardonic answer.
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