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AMERICAN MORNING

Service Questions

Aired February 16, 2004 - 09:17   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Questions about whether or not President Bush fulfilled his military obligation during the Vietnam War still remain a contentious issue in this campaign. Trying to diffuse that issue, the White House on Friday released hundreds of pages of documents about Mr. Bush's National Guard Service in 1972 and in 1973.
One man who says he has no doubt that Mr. Bush served is John "Bill" Calhoun, a former lieutenant colonel in the Alabama Air National Guard, with us now from Atlanta, Georgia, where he makes his home.

Bill, good morning to you. Thank you for your time, sir.

JOHN "BILL" CALHOUN, FMR. ALABAMA AIR NATIONAL GUARDSMEN: Good morning to you.

HEMMER: Tell us when you saw then Lieutenant Bush in Alabama?

CALHOUN: OK, it was either May or June. We had received a call from his commander, asking if he could make his drills with us. My boss there, Colonel Tarmsee (ph) brought him in, told him he was going to be there, and he actually reported in to me. He signed in on each drill. And a drill weekend was two days, a Saturday and Sunday. He would show up at 8:00, like he was supposed to. He signed in. He stayed there all day, and signed out, and he did that both days. And this was up through October, which as best I could remember would have been the last drill, because I know he left to go back to Texas before the election that he was working in.

HEMMER: October of '72, right, just to make sure I'm clear on my dates?

CALHOUN: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

HEMMER: Why do you remember him specifically, Bill?

CALHOUN: Well, they told me first he was there to work in a Republican campaign. I was probably one of the few Republicans in the National Guard. This was back during the George Wallace era. And it was the fact that he was working in the Wintonblank (ph) campaign. But they told me who he was. I had never heard of George Bush or his father, and that his father was a U.N. ambassador. So they put him with me, and I was to sign him in. During the day, during the drill, he wasn't necessarily there. I wasn't there all day with him, but he was there in my office or some of the offices close by. HEMMER: Bill, there was a story this morning in "The USA Today" that indicates, among other things, that he was treated differently from most pilots. You were one of the superiors at least. You're shaking your head no. Is that not the case?

CALHOUN: No, that's not the case. He really wasn't treated in any particular way. Because he was a Republican, like I said, he wasn't very popular around there, and no one had anything to do with him, the ones that knew he was there.

He was very, very low key. He didn't try to make friends with anybody or go around. He pretty much stayed in my office area and spent his drills. He came in on time, he was in uniform and he did what he was supposed to do, and that was all that he was required do.

HEMMER: Bill, in your estimation, why do you think it is you're just one of the few people who have come forward remembering then Lieutenant Bush at the time? What do you think explains this lapse in the documentation, the paperwork, from 30 years ago?

CALHOUN: First, there's probably as many people now that come forward and said they saw him there at some point as have come forward and said they didn't see him. I can say I saw him there, and I know he was there. I talked to him. Occasionally we'd eat lunch together. The people that -- I have heard no one say he wasn't there. They just said they didn't see him, which was not unusual, with 200 or 300 people on base and him not being a pilot flying our aircraft, he would not be around our pilots. So that's one thing.

The documentation which I have seen -- and like I said, all this information has come to me in the last three days when the records were released. All I can say is this was normally done with a phone call from a commander to commander to make a drill with another unit. And when -- the paperwork may come later. You may be there two or three months before paperwork, and you may never get any paperwork. But he did -- we did make him sign in, which is what our records required. And these were sent to administration, our pay, and they were supposed to be reported on his unit, because normally, he would not have been paid with us.

HEMMER: All right, in a word or two, what kind of a pilot was he?

CALHOUN: I don't know what kind of pilot he was. I'm an ex- fighter pilot, and he was a fighter pilot, and we talked about his airplane. He had that spark in his eye. He was -- you could tell he really enjoyed what he was doing. He enjoyed the Guard. He was a very dedicated military man, and I felt like he would have been a good pilot, but I never flew with him.

HEMMER: Bill Calhoun is our guest from the CNN Center in Atlanta. Thanks for sharing your part of the story this morning.

CALHOUN: Thank you.

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