Former colleagues dispute Bush version of 1973 "volunteer" work

By Joan Walsh
Published October 23, 2004 9:09PM (UTC)
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Did George W. Bush do community service at a Houston youth center in 1973 after getting in some kind of legal trouble? The late J.H. Hatfield made the story radioactive in 1999, when his anti-Bush book "Fortunate Son" sourced the revelation to a shadowy Texas judge (and when Hatfield's own legal troubles surfaced.) But now the Miami Herald has turned up some former staffers at Houston's Project PULL who say Bush worked there as a volunteer after getting in "trouble," in order to fulfill a community-service requirement.

"We didn't know what kind of trouble he'd been in, only that he'd done something that required him to put in the time," said Althia Turner, administrative assistant to the late Project PULL director John White, a Bush family friend. Turner says White told her he'd taken Bush on as a favor to his father, George H. W. Bush. "George had to sign in and out -- I remember his signature was a hurried cursive -- but he wasn't an employee. He was not a volunteer either," Turner said. "John said he had to keep track of George's hours because George had to put in a lot of hours because he was in trouble."

Three other PULL associates confirmed Turner's memory of Bush's role there. The administrative assistant was reluctant to tell the Herald her story, and did so only after conferring with her pastor, who urged her to tell the truth. Even after that advice, Turner lost her nerve, and the Herald story recounts a remarkable visit to the pastor, Theresa Times of Bless One Ministries, where an anxious Turner told the whole story in front Times and five people who had been attending a prayer meeting. Even in the faith-based community, it seems, some people may be losing their faith in Bush.

The PULL revelation alone wouldn't be a big deal -- whatever the details, Bush has more or less confessed to a misspent youth. And the PULL staffers remember him as someone who put in his time cheerfully and connected with the youth there. But the administration's continued dodginess about the details of Bush's famous "missing year" (the PULL service came during the time Bush was also supposed to be serving in the Texas Air National Guard) is what keeps at least some dogged reporters on the trail of the details. The White House denied that Bush was forced into community service, but did confirm he wasn't paid for his work at PULL; instead he was being paid by, that's right, the Texas Air National Guard.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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