The White House has released information about President Bush's military service during the Vietnam War to show he fulfilled his duty as a jet-fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard. Democrats again raised questions about whether Mr. Bush showed up for National Guard duty while working in the state of Alabama.
Mr. Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard in 1968, as U.S. troop levels in Vietnam were reaching their height. The National Guard is a voluntary reserve unit, whose members usually serve in their home states and are available for call-up in an emergency. Usually, after a period of full-time basic training, they complete their military service on a part-time basis for six years.
In 1972, the Texas Guard allowed Mr. Bush a temporary re-assignment to Alabama so he could work on the Senate campaign of a friend of his father, who was then a U.S. congressman.
Democrats question whether Mr. Bush showed-up for those duties, as no attendance records have been found for the president's service between May of 1972 and May of 1973. The just-released payroll records show he was paid for nine days of active duty during that time with no pay for December of 1972 or in February or March of 1973 after he returned to Texas.
The commanding officer of the Alabama unit where Mr. Bush was assigned has told reporters he does not recall the Texas First Lieutenant reporting for duty.
Leading the campaign to discredit the president's military record is Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe. Interviewed on ABC television," he said: "George Bush got out of college in 1968, the height of the draft. He used his father's contacts to get a spot in the Texas Guard. He then wanted to go work on an Alabama Senate race. He went to Alabama for one year. He did not show up."
The White House says the payroll records prove the president did fulfill his duties.
Spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that when soldiers serve they are paid for that service and the documents outline the days on which the president was paid. "The facts are clear," he said. "Now there may be some out there who are not interested in the facts. And those people clearly are simply more interested in trying to seek partisan political advantage in an election year than the facts. That is unfortunate."
Mr. Bush authorized release of the documents following an interview with NBC television, during which he promised to hand-over all records relating to his service.
In the interview aired Sunday, the president defended his state-side service. "I did report," he said. "Otherwise I would not have been honorably discharged. You do not just say, 'I did something,' without there being verification. The military does not work that way. I got an honorable discharge and I did show up in Alabama."
Allegations about his service during the Vietnam war period have followed Mr. Bush since his campaign for governor of Texas 10 years ago. He said the revival of those charges now shows the political season has begun. "I did my duty, and it is politics to kind of ascribe all kinds of motives to me. But I have been through it before. I am used to it," he said.
Because then-President Lyndon Johnson called-up only a small number of guard units for action in Vietnam, an official history on the Air National Guard website, says it "gained a reputation as a draft haven for relatively-affluent young white men."
The issue of the president's military service is particularly attractive for Democrats because the leading contender for the party's nomination to challenge Mr. Bush is Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who is a decorated Vietnam veteran.
For Democratic Chairman McAuliffe, the difference is a legitimate part of political debate. "I do not know if John Kerry will be the nominee," he said. "I have to be neutral towards all of them. But if he is the nominee, let me tell you this, George. I look forward to that debate when John Kerry - a war hero with a chest full of medals - is standing next to George Bush - a man who was AWOL in the Alabama National Guard. George Bush never served in our military in our country. He did not show up when he should have showed up."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan says Democrats are making "outrageous, baseless accusations" about the president's military record.
During his interview on NBC, Mr. Bush defended the work of the Guard, whether state-side during Vietnam or today in Iraq.
"I have heard this ever since I started running for office," he said. "I put in my time, proudly so. I would be careful to not denigrate the Guard. It is fine to go after me, which I expect the other side will do. I would not denigrate service to the Guard, though. And the reason I would not is because there are a lot of really fine people who have served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq."
Mr. Bush says he is a "war president" who has had to make tough decisions during his time in office. How voters judge that performance and the health of the U.S. economy are expected to be the central issues in this year's campaign.