Officers who flew fighter-jet patrols in the early 1970s with George W. Bush describe him as a gung-ho warrior and a gifted pilot who was popular in his Texas Air National Guard unit. The positive descriptions of Bush's military service make his sudden decision to quit flying in the spring of 1972 — two years before his pilot commitment was up — all the more puzzling.
Why 1st Lt. Bush stopped flying F-102 fighters remains murky despite the release on Friday of more than 400 pages of records detailing his Guard service from the time he enlisted until he was discharged. Asked for an explanation about why Bush stopped flying, the White House said Bush "served admirably" in the Guard, was given permission by commanders to fulfill his obligations in ways that did not involve flying and was honorably discharged. "President Bush is proud of his service," said Dan Bartlett, communications director.
Bush, whose father was in Congress at the time, was selected for Air Force pilot training, a highly competitive process, despite the speeding tickets and automobile accidents. He had also been arrested for two incidents considered college pranks: stealing a wreath in New Haven, Conn., and rowdiness at a college football game.
The combination of arrests and traffic violations and the score in the bottom quarter of those who took the pilot exam usually would have cast doubt on most applicants who were applying for pilot training, four former and current National Guard fighter pilots and one former Air Force pilot said. All served in the 1970s.
After Bush stopped flying fighter jets in April 1972 and did not take an annual physical examination required of all pilots, the Air Force should have required a hearing known as a flying evaluation board to determine his fitness to fly. Because the federal government spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to train each pilot, it typically did not allow them to stop flying without a formal proceeding. Bush's records do not mention a flying evaluation board.
The president's advisers and friends have explained that Bush stopped flying because his unit was phasing out the F-102 in 1972. They also say he was not able to get a required flight physical in Alabama, where his records show he was granted permission to train in the fall of 1972. Bartlett said there was no need for a physical exam because Bush stopped flying, report &to=http://www.usatoday.com' target=_blank>USA Today
This past week tested the proposition that it may be possible to know too much about President Bush. The White House, determined to refute Democratic charges that Mr. Bush was AWOL from the National Guard, so frantically disgorged hundreds of pages of documents from Mr. Bush's military files that reporters who normally complain about presidential secrecy found themselves drowning in a monsoon of Bush World minutiae. The documents did little to solve the argument between the president and his critics about where, when and how often Lieutenant Bush turned up for Guard duty in 1972 and 1973. But they did reveal that while in Alabama, Mr. Bush had at least nine cavities and that he has gained 19 pounds since 1971.
Medical files in the stack show that Mr. Bush was 5 feet 11 1/2 inches tall, with a weight that fluctuated from 175 pounds to 184 pounds between 1968 and 1971. (In his most recent physical, in August 2003, Mr. Bush weighed in at 194 pounds.) The weirdest document of the week was by far the dental records, which the White House sent out by e-mail with almost no warning at 8:30 p.m., meaning that reporters who clicked on the file at home suddenly found themselves face-to-face with a full-screen, close-up diagram of the president's teeth, informs &to=http://www.nytimes.com' target=_blank>NY Times