WASHINGTON -- A packet of Texas Air National Guard records released Friday showed that the commanding officer of President Bush's basic training unit took a special interest in him as a trainee and wrote to his father to praise him. Democrats called that proof of preferential treatment.
Bush's father, then a congressman from Texas, said in reply to the commander, "That a major general in the Air Force would take interest in a brand new Air Force trainee made a big impression on me."
Bush went on to say that his son "will be a gung ho member" of the Air Force and that Air Force instructors had "helped awaken the very best instincts in my son."
The letter and other material were the latest in a stream of documents released about Bush's service three decades ago during the Vietnam War, when Bush's critics say he got preferential treatment as the son of a congressman and U.N. ambassador. Critics have also questioned why Bush skipped a required medical examination in 1972 and failed to show up for drills during a six-month period that year.
The Pentagon uncovered the documents during a search in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by The Associated Press seeking all of Bush's records from the Texas Air National Guard. A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Defense Department to hand over all newly discovered Bush records to the AP by next Friday.
The AP lawsuit also led to the release earlier this month of previously undisclosed flight logs for the years Bush spent as a trainee and pilot, mostly on the F-102A fighter.
The White House has said repeatedly that all of Bush's Guard records have been disclosed, only to be embarrassed when new documents have turned up. The long-running story took an unusual turn when CBS uncovered documents purportedly showing that Bush refused orders to take a physical examination in 1972 -- but then the authenticity of the documents came under doubt.
White House communications director Dan Bartlett said the documents were more proof that Bush fulfilled his military obligations. "It also demonstrates we are fulfilling the president's request to release all the documents regarding his military service," he said.
The Democratic National Committee said releasing the documents on a Friday evening indicated Bush had something to hide.
"If the president was truly proud of his service he wouldn't be releasing these documents on a Friday night," DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe said in a statement. "These documents demonstrate yet again that George Bush was a fortunate son who received special consideration unavailable to the average American."
In addition to the letter from Bush's father, the latest documents contain news releases that the Texas Air National Guard sent to Houston newspapers in 1970 about young Bush, then a second lieutenant and new pilot. "George Bush is one member of the younger generation who doesn't get his kicks from pot or hashish or speed," the news release said. "Oh, he gets high, all right, but not from narcotics."
Three decades later, a new book by Kitty Kelley has alleged that Bush used cocaine while he was a student at Yale University and later at Camp David while his father was president.
The White House has denounced Kelley's book, "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty," and denied the charges.
The new packet of documents also contained two single-page orders documenting Bush's guard training in May and June of 1973 after he returned from Alabama. Those documents note that Bush was not allowed to fly. Bush lost his flying status in August 1972 because he failed to take a required medical exam.
The Texas training came after Bush spent more than a year away from his unit. Bush has said he left Texas to work on the unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign of a family friend. Bush was authorized to train with an Alabama Air National Guard unit in September, October and November 1972. The one record directly showing Bush appeared at the Alabama unit is a record of a January 1973 dental exam. A history of the Alabama guard unit does not mention Bush but does mention the unit received brand-new dental equipment in late 1972.
The letter written by Bush's father, former President Bush, was addressed to Maj. Gen. G.B. Greene Jr., commander of the training center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where Bush took his basic training. The file does not contain Greene's letter to Bush's father, but shows the letter his father wrote back.
"I was surprised and very, very pleased to receive your letter of Aug. 27th," Bush wrote, adding that he was impressed that a senior officer would take interest in a new trainee.
"Naturally, as a father I was pleased to read your comments about George," Bush wrote. "He is anxiously looking forward to going to flight school and with parental pride, I do have the feeling that he will be a gung ho member of the U.S. Air Force. I think that he will make a good pilot as well."
The letter went on to say that young Bush, on his first trip back home, was full of enthusiasm and kept the family up talking about his first instructor, Sgt. Henry Onacki, who had impressed Bush with his love of country and dedication to the Air Force.
"In this day and age when it has become a little bit fashionable to be critical of the military, I was delighted to see him return to our house with a real pride in the service and with a great respect for the leaders that he had encountered at Lackland."