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All Who Doubt That America Truly Is The Land Of Opportunity, Take Heart!
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An Independence Day Reflection On American Heroism

By Dom Stasi

July 4, 2003: Independence Day has always been a time for Americans of every stripe to pause and reflect upon our heritage. But this year, perhaps because the week began with our president’s ill-considered and infantile “Bring ‘em on!” taunt to the Iraqis, and ended with an unprecedented cascade of Iraqi violence against our troops and everything else American, this American writer’s thoughts are drawn, not to our oft-glorious past, but instead to our vainglorious present.

To better illustrate, come back with me, just a few weeks and a few dozen young American deaths to another independence day of sorts, to May 1, 2003 – May Day - aboard the US Navy aircraft carrier, Abraham Lincoln.

President George W. Bush has just come aboard the great warship and done so in a most dramatic fashion – by slamming onto the flattop’s deck while strapped into a Navy tactical jet. Clad in a Navy flight suit and helmet, he looks every bit the turnin’, burnin’, full on, hot dog, wire two, badass he’s determined to persuade himself and everyone else that he is.

The President of the United States has come here to announce to a watching world the end of “major” combat in Iraq. Our nation’s first wholly preemptive war had ostensibly ended as it began, by one man’s declaration. Eschewing the quiet dignity of the White House lawn, it appears that the warship (whose namesake was the very founder of the Republican party), and the glorious May day are apparently a more suitable setting for so resplendent a warrior chieftain to deliver his non-partisan message of conquest.

It mattered but little that the declaration would turn out to be as tragically premature as its delivery was inappropriate. This was not about that. Neither was this about nameless American kids who would continue dying anonymously in nameless foreign villages – an average of more than one a day in these intervening two months since Bush’s staged “end of major combat” declaration. Perhaps the defeated enemy failed to get the memo.

But no matter. This was not about unrealized young lives. This was about bigger stuff, more memorable stuff. This was about presidential heroics. This was about Washington crossing the Delaware, Grant at Richmond, Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill, Ike at Normandy. This was about American heroes. This was about American icons 2003 style.

But this warrior president still lacks the one credential that most military veterans consider prerequisite to ones basking in wartime glory. Unlike other American presidents who actually crossed the Delaware when their time came, took Richmond when their time came, and charged into the waiting cannons of San Juan Hill when their time came thus earning their heroic military images when their time came, this president chose not to step into the breach when his time came. By clear choice, he’s never known the unforgettable, vulgar stink of carrion and cordite that permeated unpleasant hells-on-earth like Valley Forge and Gettysburg, Verdun, the Argon Forest, Bata’an, Utah Beach, the Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sahn, and now Kabul and Baghdad. Because, despite the jet fighter and despite the dashing flight suit, on this day in May 2003, the Alamo is about as close as this president’s abbreviated military career ever brought him to a real battlefield. And unless he got into a fight with the tour guide, Jet Jockey George W. Bush has seen no battlefield combat of any kind, major or not.1, 2, 3 In fact, there are many who say that George W. Bush ran the other way, when his time came.

But, hell, why let a little detail like that stop a guy from playing hero? It’s all about image today. This president is making his bid to be remembered as the military symbol of his time, and doing it in the only way he can now… by upstaging, and thus trivializing the courage, pain, and sacrifice of the real combat troops arrayed on the deck behind him. They, like the millions of Americans before them who also risked or actually gave their lives out of love for and a belief that the United States was the greatest of all nations upon this fragile and eternally squabbling orb, deserve better. While ostensibly honoring their memory and deeds, the no-combat hero was in reality creating an event – a media event - so big, it will supplant reality. It does not seem to concern him that such hot-dogging might cause facts to surface that could derail his image-building effort. One such fact being that the only similarity between this president’s manufactured military image, and his actual military history is that now, just like then, George W. Bush, despite the warrior’s uniform, is warm, safe, and well protected even while other young lives are being sacrificed to his actions. No matter. Neither was this about that.

Free of his harnesses now, climbing from the cockpit, the shameless cock of the walk struts across the deck of the Lincoln just the way his handlers told him he should.

Uniformed and resplendent and looking for all the world like he’d smitten the evildoers all by himself, the warrior president appears oblivious not only to his own dubious history, but the history of every American president – his very father prominent among them - especially those who actually have smelled the stink of battle and refused to turn and run. Is he unaware that, to a man, those presidents preferred to flaunt their civilian status as America’s leader, just the way the founding fathers expected them to? It seems he is unaware. At least I hope he is. Because this commander in chief, though now an American civilian as the Constitution dictates, seems all too comfortable emulating the image his gloriously uniformed foreign presidential counterparts effect so much better than did his understated American predecessors. You know the ones: Fidel Castro, Edi Amin, Pol Pot, Manuel Noriega, Mohamar Khadafi, Saddam Hussein... uniformed heroes of the people one and all. But heroes of little else, one and all.

As he walks the walk, caparisoned in his borrowed flight suit, Bush’s choreographed war bird flyboy demeanor betrays nothing of the backsliding wartime deserter he’d allegedly once been and refused to belie.2 This was his first time in the cockpit of an American tactical aircraft since he’d been grounded by the Air Force all those years ago.2 He’d make sure it was this landing, not that other one, that America would remember. So this time, on this glorious May day, there is nothing to be seen of the young George W. Bush the Texas Air National Guardsman who, despite scoring a lowly 25% on his pilot’s aptitude test had been sent on to Air Force pilot training in place of some better qualified cadet whose name will never be known.3 There’s no trace of the George W. Bush who completed his flight training only to be removed from flight status, remove his uniform, and go Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL), not be seen again by his cushy Texas Guard unit for over a full year.3 No siree! On this “last day of major combat in Iraq” in a war he started from his Washington easy chair for reasons he cannot demonstrate, it seems to all outward appearances that the failed flying officer who vanished from his squadron 31 years ago to the day (at the height of the Vietnam War, a conflagration in which 58,000 Americans died), had disappeared yet again, and more completely than ever this time. That George W. Bush, the DUI-convicted,7 grounded,2 accused AWOL slacker1,2,3 from the Nineteen-seventies, was absolutely nowhere apparent this first day in May, 2003. Today there was only Jet Jockey George: winner, hero… in fact, conquering hero as he would soon attest from the deck of this warship. Dub’ya had come full circle, though I can’t help but think that the irony of it all must have flashed across even his oft-considered brain as he strode among all those real combat veterans aboard the Lincoln. Yet if that was so, his smirk betrayed little evidence of cognition.

But speaking of evidence, perhaps, as his handlers contend, none of that AWOL stuff actually happened all those years ago. Maybe it’s like the Holocaust. I mean, c’mon, where’s the proof? If it really was so, if Bush really was a deserter (Article 85 of the Uniform Code Of Military Justice defines a deserter as one who has been absent from duty without official leave {AWOL} for a period greater than 30 days and with no intent to return. Jet Jockey George apparently went missing from his unit for no fewer than 365 days at the height of the Vietnam War.3, 4 ) wouldn’t he be crazy or at the very least stupid to pull off an attention-drawing stunt like a carrier landing? Really now, who among you thinks that George W. Bush is crazy or - heaven forbid – stupid enough to do a thing like that? Besides, just like young Lieutenant George W. Bush himself, the evidence of his whereabouts during the latter twelve months of his six year enlistment has disappeared.

But let’s be tolerant. After all, things disappear. Didn’t the president effectively disappear leaving the country in the hands of Rudy Guiliani for fully twelve hours immediately following the Word Trade Center collapse? Didn’t the president’s stock transaction records disappear from Harken Energy?5 Didn’t the federal budget surplus disappear? Didn’t Osama bin Laden disappear? Didn’t Afghanistan disappear? Didn’t Saddam Hussein disappear? Didn’t the weapons of mass destruction disappear? Didn’t 3 million American jobs disappear? Didn’t your 2000 vote disappear? Things disappear.

Since Bush’s affinity for the military uniform seems to be a quite recent and apparently acquired taste, all we know of Bush the Lesser’s abbreviated military career is this: He’d been trained as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard. Then he flew around Texas for awhile looking for Viet Cong, no doubt, then he requested a transfer to the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama (Alabama?). That transfer was approved by Bush’s Texas superiors as well as his would-be Alabama Commander, Lt. Colonel Reese R. Bricken. But, it was rejected by the top brass. It’s merely speculation of course, but perhaps that rejection occurred because the top brass knew (as I’m sure Dub’ya and his Texas ANG cronies did) that the dashing-sounding 9921st Squadron was in reality a post office with no pilots, and no planes. Not surprisingly, that’s when things get foggy. Jet Jockey George disappears from the historical records and from the memory of his contemporaries. There is no record of his ever flying again. He does not show up to take his required flight physical (which included a drug and alcohol test) in August 1972 and is grounded in absentia. Separate orders show him being assigned to another Alabama unit, the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group in Montgomery. He never showed up there either, according to the man to whom he was ordered to report, his commander, General William Tunipseed (USAF Ret.). That was May, 1972. Seven months later, back at Ellington Air Force Base in Texas, his original squadron, Bush's two superior officers were unable to complete his annual evaluation covering the year from May 1, 1972 to April 30, 1973 because, "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of this report." Both superior officers are now dead. But the report lives on. Further, Ellington's top personnel officer at the time, retired Colonel Rufus G. Martin, said he had believed that First Lieutenant Bush completed his final year of service in Alabama. Doing what? Secretly delivering mail?

In fact, there is no record or memory of his ever doing anything Air Force like again in Texas or Alabama or anyplace else for an entire year, until May, 1973, 30 years to the day before his carrier stunt on the USS Abraham Lincoln. May 1, 1973 is when he showed up again, back in Texas.

Dub’ya’s military records for the period between 1 May 72 and 1 May 73 are either missing or are not available for “administrative reasons,” which probably means they’re missing. Further, his commanders in both the Ellington and Montgomery units do not remember ever so much as seeing Jet Jockey George during the entire time between May Day 1972, and May Day 1973. But, so be it. Nobody remembers, and maybe disappearing from duty is considered to be okay when your country is at war if your father is a congressman. I’ll pretend to accept that.

But as an Air Force veteran who tracked and controlled reconnaissance aircraft (including U-2s) during the cold war, flew aerial reconnaissance advanced systems flight test for an aerospace defense company after my honorable discharge, and was president of a civilian aerial survey company after that, there’s one thing I cannot accept, and it makes this whole thing stink. That’s simply this: few if any military units are held as accountable for their crews’ moment to moment whereabouts as are reconnaissance squadrons. It’s what they do. If during my Air Force tenure, I’d lost track of a reconnaissance aircraft or its pilot for a mere few seconds, I’d sure as hell remember it, as would every other person on my watch. If not, at the very least I’d be made to remember such a transgression by very large, well armed men who tend to be a bit touchy about such things. So let’s get real here. Recon pilots hold advanced security clearances, operate clandestine systems, fly along hostile borders, often cross those borders, inches count, seconds count. Their movements are traced and recorded precisely, and the records are kept forever. I know. They carry poison pills in case of enemy capture. They harbor incredible military secrets. That a recon squadron would be unable to account for the wherabouts of one of its pilots, between Texas and Alabama no less, and for twelve months is absurd in the lunatic extreme. (In fact in 1962 while I was still in training, one of our U-2s went down in a swamp precisely between Texas and Alabama. Yes it was returning from Cuba. Yes the recon pilot preferred a tragic and impossibly violent crash in a Louisiana swamp to the prospect of ejecting safely and losing his aircraft and its pictures in the warm, soft Gulf of Mexico just to save himself. That very same day we not only found, but retrieved every single scrap of that aircraft, its systems, its images, its cameras, everything. That included pieces smaller than one square centimeter. Later, from a balcony above, I watched in awe as the experts reassembled it on a Keesler Air Force base hangar floor just to be certain they had it all. There was intense single-minded focus, and not a word about the pilot’s “heroism.” He did what was expected of him. Now the analysis team was doing the same. I was both humbled and awestricken by the dedication and professionalism. The work, courage, and dedication to duty of such people is part of what makes America great and secure. It is not to be made light of by fakers of any kind, whatever their station.)

But somehow the military records of a man whom logic suggests would have been a very prominent member of the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron - their commander in chief, the President of the United States – cannot be found, and there’s no other person who can come forward and place him at any Air Force base, Air Force job, or Air Force function for at least a year. You got a problem with that, America. (There is no question mark following the previous sentence because it’s not a question. It’s a statement: you got a problem with that America, whether you’re willing to admit it or not!)

Instead of substance about what is probably the most profoundly important character issue raised about any American president in our nation’s history, we, the American public, are fed, and blissfully digest, photos and video of Bush in a flight suit, his smirk beaming as he struts across the Lincoln’s deck as though he were a triple jet ace. We’re given Steve Dub’ya Canyon, Smilin’ Dub’ya Jack, and Commander Dub’ya Cody all wrapped up in one very American uniform, and we love it. Hail the conquering hero!

But not everyone is buying it. Not anymore. When you take our youth to war, some Americans raise the bar.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D- West Virginia, said it best in a sharply worded speech delivered on the Senate floor.

"American blood,” said the senator, “has been shed on foreign soil in defense of the president's policies. This is not some made-for-TV backdrop for a campaign commercial. President Bush's address to the American people announcing combat victory in Iraq deserved to be marked with solemnity, not extravagance; with gratitude to God, not self-congratulatory gestures. As I watched the president's fighter jet swoop down onto the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, I could not help but contrast the reported simple dignity of President Lincoln at Gettysburg with the flamboyant showmanship of President Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln." Senator Byrd noted that a "salute" to America's fighting men and women was appropriate, but added caustically, "I do question the motives of a desk-bound president who assumes the garb of a warrior for the purposes of a speech."

Reviewing the video, there can be little rational doubt of what stimulated Byrd to speak out. We’re flooded with pictures from the Lincoln’s flight deck. In the background we see thousands of real fighting men and women – temporarily relegated to the status of blurry stage props – applauding on cue, doubtless pleased as punch to be delayed at “sea” for their commander-in-chief’s photo op, and separated from their loved ones waiting on the “distant” shore.

So what really happened that glorious May day? We all know the story Bush’s publicity machine prepared for the gaggle of credulous morons who fondly call themselves television journalists. Bush Administration flacks told them, and they obediently broadcast, and cablecast, that this was not a campaign publicity stunt (the explanation was offered preemptively, just in case some liberal whiner might suggest such a thing). The president, who would normally land on a military carrier deck by helicopter, had to forego the whirlybird, and instead do the daring jet-jockey thing because the ship was too far out at sea, and he was so eager to address the returning troops that he couldn’t wait for it to get closer. Helicopters are used only within 100 nautical miles of shore.

Right. But what eluded mention or “press” scrutiny was this. When Bush made his vaunted landing, the Lincoln was only 36 miles from shore, and in fact had to be turned to a non-standard recovery heading so that the nearby San Diego skyline was not visible to the loftily perched press cameras during the (affirmative) action-hero’s big carrier entrance. This little stunt also cost the taxpayers $1 million bucks. Now as Time magazine put it, “George W. Bush will spend nearly $300 million trying to get re-elected in 2004, but nothing he buys will come close, in sheer political capital, to what he deposited in his campaign bank last week: the perfect presidential photo op.”

Perhaps Bush or his image mogul Karl Rove the obvious brains behind the pricey stunt can be persuaded to return that million taxpayer bucks to the treasury. They can deduct it from the $170 million he’s out raising for that 2004 campaign right now. That he’s raising campaign money even as the war he declared to be over that glorious day in May from the glorious deck of the equally glorious Abraham Lincoln, drags on, seems of little interest to most Americans as we languish in our national stupor. Between May 1, 2003 and the time of this writing, no fewer than 68 more young Americans have died in the desert anonymity of this war since this president prematurely declared to be over in order to give plausible meaning to his vulgar photo opportunity aboard the carrier Abraham Lincoln. Of course the mainstream media has been obediently reporting it as only “…26 combat related” deaths. But there were 140 American deaths in Iraq prior to May 1, 2003 and the “end of major combat.”6 As of this writing, 208 American servicemen (and presumably servicewomen) have lost their lives in Iraq. They were not vacationing toursists. Do the damned math.

What’s also terribly unfortunate about such widespread manipulation of the public’s perceptions, such deliberate juxtaposition of image and reality, is this. Unlike Steve Canyon, Smilin’ Jack and the other fictional flyboy heroes of our childhood imaginations, Smirkin’ Dub’ya, the fictional hero of Karl Rove’s imagination, somehow became the commander in chief of the most awesome military juggernaut in history. And unlike the antiheroes of non-fiction, by that I mean other real-life deserters of every previous war, there was no court martial convened to belie or confirm the accusation, no hint of retribution for the better men who always have, and always will take a deserter’s place - and too often his bullet - in theaters-of-war like Vietnam and every hell-hole before it.5 No sirree! Image, not reality, prevails here. All was forgiven now as Dub’ya strode across the Lincoln’s flight deck, draped in a uniform he did not honor, holding a rank he did not earn. Like a common banana republic dictator, the unelected, Constitutionally-civilian-yet-militarily-dressed commander in chief basked in the accolades of his exploited minions, even as their brothers and sisters in arms fought on, dying by the score, far from the camera strobes, half a world away. For this was privilege, not real life. A well-familied ne’er-do-well to this day is wholly spared the embarrassment of investigation, the specter of execution and the inconvenience of retribution of any kind for his yet unproven, yet undenied military transgressions. He instead lives on, free to use his life as the proximate instrument of needless and untimely death for hundreds of better men and women than himself. As of this writing, 208 American troops have died in Iraq.6 None was derelict in his or her duty.

Yet, on this glorious May day, aboard this glorious ship, all that stuff seems hardly of consequence to most Americans. But to this American writer and hopefully a growing number of readers, it verifies what the carrier Abraham Lincoln’s real life namesake reportedly once observed: “You can fool some of the people all the time.”

Mayday. Mayday! Mayday…

References & Footnotes:

  1. military aprogress records

  2. deserter allegations
    Chicago tribune Recount


  4. Military Regs, AWOL/desertion:Article 85, Article 86; Uniform Code Of Military Justice

  5. Harken Energy

    # troops killed by May 1 & since May 1st

  7. Bush DUI arrest
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