Many Veterans Think Quayle Controvery Blown Out of Proportion
CHICAGO (AP) _ Many veterans applauded Vice President George Bush’s defense of his embattled running mate Monday and said the controversy over Sen. Dan Quayle’s military record was political mudslinging.
But several others, who fought in the Vietnam War while Quayle served in the Indiana National Guard, said they felt he had intentionally dodged combat duty and shirked his obligation to his country.
″I don’t like this mudslinging. ... I don’t think he would have turned his back on the good old U.S.A.,″ said Otto Lunacek, a veteran from Batavia, Ill., who fought in the Korean War.
But Fredy Champagne, a veteran from Garberville, Calif., who fought in Vietnam in 1965-66, saw it differently.
″I don’t believe the man’s qualified to serve our country if he’s shirked his military duty,″ Champagne said, noting one way to avoid the draft at that time was by getting into the National Guard.
″I don’t think he represents the Vietnam-era generation in any stretch of the imagination,″ he said. ″I don’t think he can be counted on in a time of crisis.″
Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, met the controvery head-on Monday during an appearance at the 89th annual national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, delivering an impassioned defense of the Indiana senator’s record.
″Dan Quayle served in the National Guard, signing up in a unit that had vacancies at the time and now he is under shrill, partisan attack,″ Bush told about 4,500 veterans attending the convention’s opening session.
″He served honorably. True, he didn’t go to Vietnam, but his unit wasn’t sent.
″But there’s another truth: He did not go to Canada, he did not burn his draft card, and he damn sure didn’t burn the American flag. I’m proud to have him at my side,″ Bush said as the crowd cheered and gave him a standing ovation.
A smaller crowd of about 2,500 cheered and whistled Quayle when he made a hastily arranged appearance in which acknowledged his debt to the older generation that served in World War II and other conflicts.
Many veterans leaving the auditorium at the McCormick Place convention center said they were impressed by Bush’s remarks.
″I think in a way (Quayle’s military service) is kind of blown out of proportion,″ said Billy Stansberry of Joplin, Mo., who served in Vietnam in 1967-68. ″If the man’s qualified, that’s all that matters to me.″
″I would say they’re trying to give (Quayle) the shaft,″ added Oakey Smith, a veteran from Stroudsburg, Pa., who was in the Army during World War II, serving from 1942-45 in Burma, China and India. ″Like Bush said, he was in the National Guard and his unit never went overseas.
″You can’t blame him for that. I would say it’s a lot of to-do about nothing. It’s just politics - you know, cut the other guy’s throat if you can,″ Smith said.
Louis Green, a Chicago veteran who also served in the Pacific during World War II, said he believes Quayle probably enlisted in the National Guard to avoid being sent to Vietnam and possibly into combat.
But he said: ″It doesn’t bother me that much. ... It is a hell of a lot better than going to Canada and not joining anything.″
About 600,000 of the VFW’s 2.1 million members are Vietnam veterans, organizers say.
But an official of the Washington, D.C.-based National Vietnam Veterans Coalition said Monday the VFW had not addressed many of the concerns of veterans from that conflict.
Jerry Kiley said coalition members were upset that Bush had chosen to defend Quayle’s record at the VFW convention.
″We believe Bush and his people are sandbagging on the Quayle issue,″ said Kiley, vice president of the Vietnam veterans’ group, in a telephone interview from New York.
″The issue is how he got in (to the Guard). By doing that, Quayle bumped somebody off that list, and it’s likely the person he bumped went to Vietnam.
″But what makes this worse is here’s a hawk, a man clamoring to send our boys into battle but who did not have the courage of his own convictions to go himself,″ said Kiley of Garnerville, N.Y.