The phone rang exactly twice before it picked up at the other end and I was immediately transported back over the 33 years since Id last heard that unmistakable machine-gun-like Brooklyn accent. "Matty English, from Recon platoon, 2nd of the 327," I shot back in more of a declaration than a question.
I had no doubt. This was a man Id served with in Vietnam, from June 1965-June 1966. Id found his name and number on a Web site for the old 327th Infantry, part of the 101st Airborne Division. It was Matty English all right. And from English, who is a retired New York City policeman now living in Staten Island, I was directed to Pat Sullivan an investment broker in Colorado Springs and then to my old platoon sergeant, George W. Day in Wilmington, Ohio. What stirred this little walk down memory lane was the obvious problems President Bush seems to be having coming up with people who might have remembered serving with him in the Alabama Air National Guard. I will forget many things in the last 57-plus years Ive spent in this life, but the names, faces and obviously the voices of many of the members of Recon Platoon, 2/327, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, will not be among them.
And while I will grant the president the benefit of the doubt on the fact that his stint in Alabama lacked much if not all the intensity of mine in Vietnam, it is virtually impossible to serve with other men in similar circumstances and not have a single recollection of at least something over an entire year.
Furthermore, wouldnt you think that at least one other person, given the 30-plus years in between and the fact that there was a gigantic difference in recognition between 1st Lt. George W. Bush circa 197273 and President Bush, would remember something, anything about the man. Hell, youd expect that some guy sitting around a bar swapping lies would want to be able to brag that hed been in the Alabama Guard with the president of the United States.
I am told that there is a reward of several thousand dollars for any former member of the unit Bush was assigned to who can come forward with one recollection of the Texas fighter pilot. And thats another thing. Why was it that the taxpayers of this nation supposedly spent several hundred thousand dollars training George W. Bush to be a fighter pilot only to have him not show up for his flight physical and spend the last 18 months to two years of his service grounded? There are any number of questions that arise surrounding the presidents Guard service. But none should be attached to the fact that he chose the Guard over possibly being drafted and/or spending active duty in Vietnam in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
It was a route chosen by many young men of the era. And even though it was a lot easier for affluent white kids to find the precious few slots available, as even the National Guard has admitted since, it was certainly an acceptable way to fulfill the obligation. But there is one major question that should surface in all the controversy, but so far has escaped utterance.
The major difference between the National Guard of mine and President Bushs youth and todays military structure, is the fact that back in the 1960s and 70s, the Guard and Reserve were by order of then President Johnson not to be activated. In short, they were not to be used, as the military leaders of the time knew they would stand little or no chance against the well trained and dedicated North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong units. That is also why they received the well-earned reputation of being a get-out-of-Vietnam-free card.
That is not the case today, when service in the Guard and Reserve seems like a sure ticket to a hot spot. In 200304 many Guard and Reserve units have been and will continue to be called to combat duty in Iraq and elsewhere around the world.
Which leaves me to ask, just what would be the fate of a 1st lieutenant in todays Air National Guard who couldnt account for upwards of six months or more of his time in the service and could find not one single solitary soul who could support his story?
I think we all know the answer to that question.