Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Bush's Vietnam-era duty: Defending the homeland from Soviet attack

Remember the "wimp factor" that dogged the George Bush the elder in the 1988 presidential contest?

His campaign torpedoed the epithet forever with a single, understated TV ad. The ad simply showed grainy black-and-white film footage of Bush, then a teenage Navy pilot, being rescued at sea after the Japanese shot him down.

Here's how the campaign of our current President Bush can drive a stake through the heart of public doubts about his Vietnam-era military service: run a similar ad that merely shows what his job was in the Air National Guard at the time most American fighting men were in Southeast Asia.

The ad should say this: While our forces were fighting the communists in far-off Vietnam, the nation relied on other combat-ready men at home to defend the nation from a surprise Soviet nuclear attack.

One of those men was Lt. George W. Bush.

Rather than a risk possible two-year draft in the regular forces, Bush chose to volunteer for a certain six-year hitch with the Air National Guard. Where privilege might have landed him in a safe administrative position, he chose one of the riskiest jobs in the force, piloting an old but high-performance jet fighter, the Convair F-102 "Delta Dagger."

His mission during the Cold War: to intercept Soviet Tu-95 strategic nuclear bombers that ran regular doomsday missions up and down the Eastern seaboard threatening American cities with nuclear destruction.

Bush's F-102 was a dangerous machine to fly. Built in the 1950s, the primitive single-engine plane, with a delta-wing design that pilots say made it tough to control, could fly at supersonic speed with an arsenal of 24 unguided rockets and six guided missiles to intercept incoming aircraft.

Col. William Campenni, who served with Bush in the same squadron, wrote in a February 11, 2004 letter to the Washington Times, "Our Texas Air National Guard lost several planes right there in Houston during Lt. Bush's tenure, with fatalities. Just strapping on one of those obsolescing F-102s was risking one's life."

While Navy swift boat sailors risked their lives daily on the Mekong Delta, Lt. Bush risked his as an F-102 pilot, ready to defend the homeland against a Soviet nuclear attack.

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