Janet Linke has been thinking about George W. Bush a lot lately. Thirty-two years ago, her late husband Jan Peter Linke served briefly in the Texas Air National Guard’s 111 Fighter Interceptor Squadron. Bush’s service in the same squadron has gotten plenty of attention in an election year when what you did during the Vietnam War is suddenly a litmus test of character. But Linke claims she knows a part of the story that nobody has mentioned.
According to Linke, a Jacksonville resident and artist, Bush’s flying career was permanently disabled by a crippling fear of flying.
Linke’s husband was admitted to the Texas Guard in the summer of 1972 to replace Bush. President Bush has said that he stopped flying fighter jets because the Alabama Guard unit didn’t have jets, and he wanted the transfer to Alabama in order to work on a political campaign. But Linke says she heard a different story from her husband and Bush’s squad commander, the late Lt. Col. Jerry Killian. Shortly after her husband joined the Texas unit, Linke says, the couple discussed Bush’s service with Killian at a social event.
Contrary to some news reports that suggest Killian admired Bush, Linke says the officer didn’t have much use for the young lieutenant. He mentioned that Bush appeared to have a drinking problem, she recalls, but he was most offended by another incapacity: his fear of flying. According to Linke, Killian said Bush was grounded in his fourth year of flying after he became incapable of flying or properly landing a plane.
“He was mucking up bad, Killian told us,” Linke says. “He just became afraid to fly.”
Killian has become a major figure in Bush’s unfolding “Guardgate.” CBS news anchor Dan Rather produced memos signed by Killian saying he was pressured to sugarcoat Bush’s service, among other things. A few days after the report, CBS backed off when other media questioned the veracity of the documents.
But flight logs released by the White House three weeks ago in response to a lawsuit by the Associated Press show a strange retraction of Bush’s air time around that period. In February and March 1972, Bush switched from flying the F102A fighter jet, which the Guard used to patrol U.S. borders, to a two-seat T-33 training jet. His superiors also returned him to flight simulator practice sessions.
But records suggest the extra training sessions didn’t help. Logs show that in March and April 1972, Bush twice needed multiple tries to land the F102 fighter. Days later, on April 16, Bush piloted a plane for the Texas Air National Guard for the last time.
“He just couldn’t cut it,” says Linke. “I was led to believe he was kind of a coward.” (Folio Weekly was able to reach two former Bush squadmates in Texas, but both declined to be interviewed.)
In May 1972, Bush left Texas. He headed to Alabama, where he requested assignment with the postal reserve unit. Bush’s request was initially denied. But in August 1972, Killian stripped Bush of his flying duties for failing to take an annual physical. In September, he was ordered to take an administrative post with the Alabama Guard.
“[Killian] sent him to Alabama to fly desk,” she recalls. “And then he never showed up.” In Alabama, Bush’s fellow guardsman have said they don’t remember ever seeing him.
For Linke, W’s military service has become a very personal flashpoint. Linke’s husband died while serving in the Texas Guard in 1973 after drinking at the officer’s club. He nodded off at the wheel, drove into a lake and drowned. Linke was 27 years old with a 3-year-old son. She didn’t know much about who W was then; his family was not on the national radar. “We were told his father was a very wealthy Texan with CIA connections.”
After Bush became president, to the swelling sounds of military music and war cries, Linke found herself unable to shake her memory of Bush’s abrupt departure from military service. When she saw him swoop onto an aircraft carrier wearing a green flight suit, she thought about that 1972 conversation with Killian. But it wasn’t until the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth advertisements questioning John Kerry’s military service began airing in Jacksonville that she became incensed and decided to speak up. “At least Kerry served,” she says. “Bush stepped aside. Anyone else who was AWOL like that would have been in Leavenworth, and here he is president of the United States.”
Linke, who voted for George Bush’s dad, insists she’s not just anti-Bush or anti-Republican. But she’s unhappy with W’s presidency. After the passage of the Patriot Act, Linke and a girlfriend made T-shirts that said, “One Nation Under Surveillance.” And in early September, after seeing a swift boat ad, she went to Duval County Democratic Party headquarters to pick up Kerry-Edwards signs and chose to volunteer her story. Democratic Party officials contacted Folio Weekly the same day. Linke spoke to Folio Weekly before the White House released Bush’s flight logs, which appear to substantiate her story.
Unlike his mom, Linke’s son Chris supports President Bush. But he doesn’t doubt her version of events. “If she says it happened, that’s good enough for me,” he says. He notes that flying fighter jets is a dangerous job, and “not everybody’s got the mettle,” so he doesn’t doubt that Bush could have lost his nerve.
But Chris Linke’s faith in the president remains unshaken. When he goes to the polls in November, he says, “I will be voting for him.”