One of the more mysterious aspects of the GW Bush National Guard dust up is that presumably the ex-1st Lieutenant could clear it up any time by releasing his service records. And as Bush supporters are fond of saying, he did get an 'honorable discharge' didn't he? So how bad could it be? By not releasing the information, Mr. Bush makes the speculation all but inevitable—might there be something ugly tucked in there somewhere?
The problem, of course, is given what has been released (and leaving aside the known scandal to which we are all desensitized of how Bush got into the Guard), the only visible problem is gaps, and the issue of how they got papered over. The public portions of the military record show no signs of anything discreditable except Not Showing Up when obligated to do so. (Various inferences about why are of course possible — lack of caring, fear of drug tests, inebriation, etc., but again these are old news and long ago and not likely to be that damaging politically.) So what could it possibly be?
In the 1970s the Pentagon admitted that the Army was stamping discharge papers with 530 different “SPN” code numbers that gave savvy employers derogatory information about servicemen, including some with honorable discharges. The codes did not appear on discharge papers issued to servicemen but were available to employers who asked for more detailed records. Classifications included “drug abuse,” “disloyal or subversive security program,” “homosexual tendency,” “unsuitability—apathy, defective attitudes and inability to expend effort constructively,” and “unsuitability—enuresis [bed wetting].” See Dana A. Schmidt, Pentagon Using Drug-Abuse Code, N.Y. Times, Mar. 1, 1972, at 11. Receipt of antiwar literature sufficed to be classified as disloyal or subversive. See Peter Kihss, Use of Personal- Characterization Coding on Military Discharges Is Assailed, N.Y. Times, Sept. 30, 1973, at 46. In response to public pressure, the Pentagon abandoned the program and reissued discharge papers without the codes. See Pentagon Abolishes Code on Discharges of Military Misfits, N.Y. Times, Mar. 23, 1974, at 64; Uncoded Discharge Papers Are Offered to Veterans, N.Y. Times, April 28, 1974, at 33.
From this, it looks like the Pentagon stopped using these codes in early 1974, at least for the Army. Phil Carter reports that the National Guard used an equivalent, but slightly different, set of discharge forms from the Army's. I wonder if, like the Army, the National Guard also had derogatory codes attached even to “honorable” discharges, and if so, what they were, and when they stopped using them?
GW Bush's discharge date on his NGB 22 (the Guard's equivalent of the Army's DD 214) is Oct '73 — even before the Army stopped using its codes. Could this be what all the secrecy is about?