Poke in the Eye

Plus: Legal Warrior; Turncoats

 Poke in the Eye
Arlington general tosses CBS News in the brig

Major General Bobby Hodges places a neat stack of newspaper clippings next to two decks of playing cards, the gear of a bridge aficionado. The clips are heavily highlighted. There are photos in the stack, too. One hazy black-and-white shot shows a ground crew shoving a delta-winged F-102 fighter. The canopy is open. The pilot is visible in the cockpit.

Hodges piloted the F-102 in Vietnam while in the Texas Air National Guard. He flew 51 combat missions from South Vietnam and northern Thailand, escorting B-52 bombers and intercepting enemy aircraft during a 90-day tour known as Palace Alert.

Retired Major General  Bobby Hodges
Mark Graham
Retired Major General Bobby Hodges

But among his most challenging battles has come not against a tenacious pilot but against a dogged broadcast network, CBS News. Hodges was one of the sources the network used to validate a series of 30-year-old memos allegedly written by the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian hinting political favoritism was exerted to sanitize President George W. Bush's military record in the Texas Air National Guard. Hodges insists the network never showed him the documents and he never authenticated them. When he finally did get a peek at them a day and a half after a 60 Minutes broadcast highlighting the memos aired, he was convinced they were fakes. "It didn't take me but a minute or two to realize that Jerry Killian did not write these," he says. "No way."

Hodges, 74, who retired from the Texas Air National Guard in 1989 and lives in Arlington, says he was first contacted by CBS on the evening of September 6, two days before the 60 Minutes broadcast. Hodges says that during a telephone conversation 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes read him small excerpts from the memos, among them portions relating to Bush's missed physical. "I said, 'Yes, I remember talking about his physical, that he missed his physical,'" Hodges says. "Everybody knew he missed his physical...I agreed that we had talked about the physical, which gave her authority to say that I authenticated all four memos."

Mapes also read Hodges portions from a May 1972 memo relating to Bush's missed drills: "Phone call from Bush," reads the purported Killian memo. "Discussed options of how Bush can get out of coming to drill from now through November." Hodges says he confirmed to Mapes that Bush was gone from May to November 1972 to work on a campaign in Alabama, and that officers in the Guard discussed it and gave him permission to go.

But when he realized CBS cast his confirmation of contemporaneous conversations as document authentication, he protested. In a September 12 article, The Dallas Morning News quoted CBS News anchorman Dan Rather stating that CBS offered to show Hodges the documents. "We wanted to take the documents to him and do an interview, and he declined to do that," Rather said, adding that Hodges "said that the documents were--quote--familiar to him, and that Killian did indeed feel the way that the documents expressed."

But Hodges maintains CBS never offered to show him the documents, which he believed to be handwritten. Instead, they offered to interview him on the air for the Wednesday 60 Minutes broadcast, which he declined. Hodges also disputes Rather's contention that the documents were familiar to him. "They say I'm familiar with them because they read them to me," he says. "To me, they wanted somebody to say yes to something so that they could say they were authenticated."

Hodges takes issue with another Rather quote that appeared September 11 in The Washington Post. "In an interview, Rather stressed that CBS had talked to two people who worked with Killian in the Texas Guard--his superior, retired Major General Bobby Hodges, and his administrative assistant, Robert Strong--and both described the memos as consistent with what they knew of Killian," wrote the Post's Howard Kurtz. "Hodges, who told CBS he was 'familiar' with the documents, is an avid Bush supporter, and 'it took a lot for him to speak the truth,' Rather said."

"I do not know Robert Strong," Hodges insists. "Never met him." Hodges also insists that, though he considers himself a Bush supporter, he never expressed such sentiments to CBS.

Hodges maintains he first saw the disputed memos on the morning of September 10 after his niece downloaded them off the Internet. That same evening, he says, he had phone conversations with Mapes and Rather during which he expressed his belief that the Killian memos were fakes.

But what astounded him, he says, was that neither Rather nor Mapes probed further. "Neither one of them, neither Dan Rather nor Mary Mapes...they never asked me why I thought they were not authentic," he says. "I can tell you 21 reasons why I think that. It has nothing to do with typewriters or spacing or anything like that. It's just strictly the verbiage in those four memos."

CBS News didn't return calls for comment, and Mapes declined to discuss Hodges' charges. "I can't, I just can't," she says. But she did forward a study by Utah State University Associate Professor David Hailey disputing the contention that the memos were created on a word processor using digital type rather than a '70s-era typewriter--the key challenge to their authenticity. "I really believe they are not digitally produced," Hailey says. "I'm not saying that they're authentic. I'm saying they were probably typewritten. That doesn't make them authentic. But it does take CBS off the hook a little bit."

Hodges' copies of the memos are a patchwork of highlighted phrases and detailed notes in the margins, isolating terms he says are suspect. For example, Hodges says the use of the term "billet" in an August 1, 1972, memo to denote National Guard positions was not used by the Air Guard, which instead referred to positions as pilot slots. He also takes issue with the thrust of that memo, in which Killian orders "1st lt. Bush be suspended from flight status due to failure to perform to USAF/TexANG standards and failure to meet annual physical examination (flight) as ordered." Hodges insists pilots were never ordered to take "annual flying physicals." The exams were automatic. "And when you missed your physical, you're automatically grounded," he says. "Nobody has to direct you to be grounded, because you're automatically grounded."

Hodges also disputes sentiments expressed by Rather during the September 15 broadcast of 60 Minutes when he says that those disputing the memos have never criticized the heart of the report, that "George Bush received preferential treatment to get into the National Guard and, once accepted, failed to satisfy the requirements of his service."

Hodges says he was never aware of Bush receiving preferential treatment to get into the Guard. None was needed, he contends. While there were long waiting lists to get into the Texas Air National Guard in the early 1960s, Hodges insists by 1967 the pool of candidates willing to commit to a six-year enlistment had all but evaporated. "In 1967 we were hurting for pilots," he says. "We were having to advertise. We had to recruit pilots."

He also insists media reports implying Bush didn't live up to Guard requirements at the tail end of his enlistment are also inaccurate. When Bush moved to Alabama to work on a political campaign, Hodges says, he was never assigned to the Alabama Guard, nor was he under its command, as some reports contend. He says Bush was not required to attend drills in Alabama but was given permission to work on the campaign and attend drills if he so desired as a courtesy. "As far as I know, he never made a drill in the Alabama unit, even though we gave him permission to," Hodges says. "We had hoped that he would, so that when he came back he wouldn't have to make up so many. It still wasn't absolutely necessary."

Hodges says what media reports miss in their dissection of Bush's irregular record during the last two years of his enlistment was that the Air Force was in the process of decommissioning his plane, the F-102. In the fall of 1972, Hodges says, he received word that he was losing 10 pilots and that his unit's 22 F-102s were being phased out. Because Bush had less than two years left in his enlistment, he was ineligible to be trained and certified in another fighter. Neither the Alabama unit, nor the Massachusetts unit he attempted to transfer to when he enrolled at Harvard, flew the F-102. "He couldn't get in," says Hodges of the Massachusetts Guard. "Normally a unit wouldn't accept a 102 pilot unless they were flying 102s. They were flying F-106s. We transferred him to the inactive reserve...As I remember, when he left us, he was in our good graces." --Mark Stuertz

Legal Warrior

Dallas attorney Mike Snipes ends two careers this fall following a hair-raising stint in the hinterlands of Iraq.

For 14 years, Snipes has been an assistant U.S. attorney. Since 1998, he's specialized in white-collar fraud.

For 14 years Colonel Mike Snipes also has been a warrior in the Army Reserve. "Unlike other jobs in the Army," says Snipes, a West Point grad and former military prosecutor, "the legal work never stops."

Snipes took command of the legal unit for the 1st Infantry Division in June 2001. After 9-11, Snipes and his team of 75 worked every weekend to help soldiers write wills, shutter businesses and terminate leases--important but hardly dangerous work.

Early this year, Snipes got called to active duty. "They asked me to send 14 of our lawyers to Germany," Snipes says. "I wasn't going to send my guys and me not go."

Snipes supervised courts-martial in Germany. When ordered to send an attorney to Iraq as adjutant to Major General John Batiste in the Tikrit region, Snipes jumped at the chance. "I thought it would be the best way to end my career," he says.

Living in the back of a truck, Snipes took notes and wrote speeches for Batiste. For two months, Snipes accompanied Batiste on trips to meet local leaders. "Most of the people there love us," Snipes says. "What they want us to do is leave when things are stable and secure."

After returning to Dallas, Snipes entered private practice. And he has gone on Individual Ready Reserve status.

He watches war news with a fresh eye. "So many good things are happening," Snipes says. "But it only takes one horrible terrorism act to make that look completely different." --Glenna Whitley

Turncoats

"Rock the Vote" is a 50-city, MTV-sponsored tour that's primarily concerned with registering voters for the presidential election. But last week, UT-Arlington's College Republicans had another concern: informing the youths of Arlington of the local stuff on the November 2 ballot--specifically, the referendum to fund a new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys.

Passing the referendum would mean handing $648 million to the Dallas Cowboys so their owner, Jerry Jones, one of the richest men in sports, can build a stadium in Arlington. In exchange, the Cowboys promise an economic boom that will transform the suburb into that choicest of American cities, the urbanly revived (or, in Arlington's case, vived). Critics of the plan--be they economists, the Fort Worth Weekly or anyone who remembers similar promises of Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks in the 1990s--say the Cowboys' proposals are, as the expression goes, all hat, no cattle.

Yet the College Republicans are not among the critics. Instead, the group that stands for all things fiscally conservative sponsored the pro-Cowboys booth at Rock the Vote.

"Oh, I find it very ironic," said Corinne Veteikis, the squat, gray-haired woman who wore her "No Jones Tax" T-shirt last week while manning the No Jones Tax booth. Maybe, she wondered, looking beyond her tent to the College Republican one some 30 paces away, they don't understand what Republican means.

Kat Miller assured they do. Miller is the president of the College Republicans at UTA. "[Sponsoring the Cowboys] is more about informing the public of local issues," Miller said at Rock the Vote.

The Cowboys came to the College Republicans first. "Had the No Jones Tax people come to us first," she said, "we would have sponsored them."

And yes, ha ha, she was aware of the contradiction that came with her group supporting Jerry Jones.

"I think it's funny," Miller said, though the look on her face said it wasn't funny at all. --Paul Kix

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