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Michigan Governor Defends Failed Army Physicals

April 16, 1996

LANSING, Mich. (AP) _ Gov. John Engler, mentioned as a potential running-mate for Sen. Bob Dole, denies making changes over the years in his explanation of why he was not drafted during the Vietnam War.

``Nothing could be further from the truth,″ Engler said in a letter to the editor of The Washington Post.

The letter, published Monday, challenged a column by Mark Shields that poked fun at Engler’s failure to pass a 1969 Army physical because he was 2 pounds overweight.

``In a blatant and unfair attack on my credibility, Mr. Shields characterized the explanation of my draft history as `evolving,‴ Engler wrote.

During a news conference Monday, Engler said, ``I was trying to be very clear on something I think is very clear.″

In a April 9 column headlined ``Skinny Guys for Dole,″ Shields wrote: ``It’s hard to imagine Bob Dole in the fall of 1996 spending precious time and effort trying to explain the philosophical differences between the non-military records of John Engler and Bill Clinton.″

Most of Engler’s letter to the editor focused on a step-by-step explanation of the changes Engler’s draft status went through between December 1966, after he turned 18, and January 1972, once he had become a lawmaker.

Engler was a 20-year-old student at Michigan State University in East Lansing when he lost his student deferment in December 1968. Engler said last month that his student deferment had ``lapsed,″ changing his draft status to 1-A, eligible for the draft.

Engler spokesman John Truscott said Monday that there’s a chance Engler’s student deferral lapsed because some universities were slow to turn in lists of students to the Selective Service. A Michigan State spokesman did not return phone calls late Monday afternoon.

Engler said he had gone out drinking the night before getting on a bus and heading to Detroit for his first physical on Feb. 6, 1969. After failing that physical because he was 2 pounds overweight, he failed a follow-up physical on May 22, 1969, again for exceeding the weight limit.

No records of Army weight requirements at the time of Engler’s physical exams are currently available. Engler said he doesn’t remember what he weighed at the time.

``I would have served if I had been required to do so,″ he told reporters last month when the issue first came to light.

``I raised questions, but I wasn’t somebody who was out leading anti-war protests,″ he said. ``I was too busy. All I was trying to do was get my degree, stay in school and graduate.″

His draft status was changed to 1-Y in June 1969 while he was still at Michigan State, the governor said in Monday’s letter. The 1-Y classification, abolished in December 1971, meant registrants were qualified for service only in time of war or national emergency.

Engler ran for the state House in 1970 while still a student and was sworn in as a state representative in January 1971. Because elected public service in a state legislative body was an exempt classification, Engler’s draft status was changed in January 1972 to 4-F.

When asked about his draft status during a debate in his 1994 re-election campaign, Engler said only that he had a student deferment.

Engler’s background has attracted increased attention as his name is mentioned more and more often as a possible running mate to GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole.

But Engler said in his letter that such speculation is premature.

``I want to make this clear: I’m not on any list that I know of, nor have I been asked to be a part of any list or ticket,″ he wrote. ``I have not had any discussions about this issue with Sen. Dole or anyone from his campaign.″

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