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Bush and Bentsen Sons Say No Strings Pulled in Their Guard Sign-ups

August 24, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The sons of George Bush and Lloyd Bentsen say no strings were pulled to ensure their entrance into the National Guard during the Vietnam War.

George W. Bush, son of the GOP presidential candidate, and Lloyd M. Bentsen III, the son of the Democratic vice presidential candidate, discussed their military service Tuesday in response to the flap over whether family influence helped Republican vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle join the Guard and avoid being drafted for combat in Vietnam.

The younger Bush and Bentsen were Guardsmen together at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston. Both said they applied to enter the Texas Air National Guard in 1968 when it was inevitable they would be called to serve in the military.

But the two, who had known one another in Houston before joining the same Guard unit, said they enlisted on their own without use of their fathers’ influence. Their fathers have affirmed that position.

Both men said in interviews that they signed up after personally contacting the commander of the fighter group they wanted to join at Ellington.

Circumstances of joining the National Guard have become an issue in the case of Quayle, a youthful advocate of the Vietnam War who is now a hardliner on defense in the Senate.

During the Vietnam era, entrance into the National Guard was viewed by some as a way to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam. Quayle has denied any such motivation.

Quayle’s student deferment from the draft was about to expire in 1969 and he had been called for his pre-induction physical, an indication he was about to be drafted. Most of those drafted during the period were sent to Vietnam.

A retired Indiana Guard official acknowledged Tuesday that he told the Guard personnel office to hold open a space for Quayle after receiving a call from a Quayle family employee in 1969.

Both Bush’s son and Bentsen’s son acknowledged it was inevitable they would have to serve in the military after they graduated from college, so they chose National Guard service.

The younger Bentsen, 43, railed at a claim by New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu that Bentsen’s father had rushed to get his son a spot in the National Guard when he learned of an opening.

″He was absolutely, categorically wrong,″ the son said.

″Shortly after I graduated, I went to a party with some of my friends and one of the people introduced me to Brig. Gen. Walter Staudt, who was the commander of the 147th Fighter Group in the Texas Air Guard.″ Bentsen said Staudt told him at a later meeting that because of his masters business degree, ″he could use someone like me″ for an accounting and finance officer.

Bentsen said he went home and discussed the matter with his father, a businessman at the time, and decided to enlist. He became a finance officer ″as luck would have it,″ serving ″past my six-year requirement,″ and achieving the rank of captain, he said.

In the younger Bush’s case, the circumstances also involved talking to Staudt.

″It was obvious that somewhere I would have to serve and I was fully prepared to do so,″ said Bush, whose father was a decorated fighter pilot in World War II. The 42-year-old son said he, too, wanted to be a pilot.

″I heard the National Guard was looking for pilots,″ he said. He called Staudt, who confirmed the unit did need new pilots. Bush said he could not remember how he learned of the need for pilots or knew to call Staudt, but that ultimately he became the third of six new pilots who were selected in that Texas unit.

He said he passed the pilot training exam, then served 18 months on active duty, six months in Houston and another 12 months of pilot training in Georgia where he flew F102 fighters, then flew on a regular basis until 1973.

Bush said he supported the Vietnam cause and he ″jumped at the opportunity″ to be a pilot, joining the Guard because he could not be assured a pilot job in the other military branches.

″I was going into the service one way or the other,″ he said.

Some senior pilots from his unit did fly in Vietnam on a voluntary basis, he said.

Bentsen’s son said he was motivated to join the Guard partly because he had just finished graduate school.

″I felt, as I think all of us did in 1968, that it was inevitable that we would be drafted within six to nine months. I didn’t worry about going to Vietnam. In general I supported the war effort. ... My concern was that the military had a history of mismatching a person’s experience with the job that they got and I was afraid they were going to make me a clerk typist somewhere.″

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