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By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Missing in Action Edited version: Mr. Mintz says he had heard that Mr. Bush - described as a young Texas pilot with political influence - had transf

Missing in Action

Edited version:

Mr. Mintz says he had heard that Mr. Bush - described as a young Texas pilot with political influence - had transferred to the base. He heard that Mr. Bush was also a bachelor, so he was looking forward to partying together. He's confident that he'd remember if Mr. Bush had shown up.

"I'm sure I would have seen him," Mr. Mintz said yesterday. "It's a small unit, and you couldn't go in or out without being seen. It was too close a space." There were only 25 to 30 pilots there, and Mr. Bush - a U.N. ambassador's son who had dated Tricia Nixon - would have been particularly memorable.

I've steered clear until now of how Mr. Bush evaded service in Vietnam because I thought other issues were more important. But if Bush supporters attack John Kerry for his conduct after he volunteered for dangerous duty in Vietnam, it's only fair to scrutinize Mr. Bush's behavior.

In contrast, Mr. Mintz is a compelling witness. Describing himself as "a very strong military man," he served in the military from 1959 to 1984. A commercial pilot, he is now a Democrat but was a Republican for most of his life, and he is not a Bush-hater. When I asked him whether the National Guard controversy raises questions about Mr. Bush's credibility, Mr. Mintz said only, "That's up to the American people to decide."

The sheer volume of missing documents, and missing recollections, strongly suggests to me that Mr. Bush blew off his Guard obligations. It's not fair to say Mr. Bush deserted. My sense is that he (like some others at the time) neglected his National Guard obligations, did the bare minimum to avoid serious trouble and was finally let off by commanders who considered him a headache but felt it wasn't worth the hassle to punish him.

"The record clearly and convincingly proves he did not fulfill the obligations he incurred when he enlisted in the Air National Guard," writes Gerald Lechliter, a retired Army colonel who has made the most meticulous examination I've seen of Mr. Bush's records (I've posted the full 32-page analysis
here). Mr. Lechliter adds that Mr. Bush received unauthorized or fraudulent payments that breached National Guard rules, according to the documents that the White House itself released.


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