Did Al Gore Serve in Vietnam?
Did Al Gore serve in Vietnam? Yes, he did. He spent five months there as a reporter/journalist.
By Carolyn Gargaro
August 10, 1999
Updated October 9, 2000
"Mr. Gore enlisted in the Army on Aug. 7, 1969, reporting to Fort Dix, N.J. He was based at Fort Rucker, Ala., working as an information specialist. For a reason neither he nor the military can explain, Mr. Gore would remain at Fort Rucker for a lengthy period awaiting orders." "When they finally came, he would spend less than five months in Vietnam, arriving on Jan. 8, 1971, to write newspaper and magazine articles. He was discharged on May 24, 1971." (The Washington Times National Weekly Edition Nov. 28 - Dec. 4, 1994)
A five month stay in Vietnam is less than half the normal tour. Gore asked for and received an "early out" that May at a time when the 20th Engineers were standing down as part of a gradual U.S. troop reduction. (Washington Post. 12/31/99 pg. A1)
I know what people are thinking. They're probably thinking, "So? Your point is....?" The point is, I believe that Gore has misrepresented his Vietnam activities. Gore stated that he was "shot at" and that "I spent most of my time in the field" (The Washington Post, 2/3/88). In a March 1988 Vanity Fair article, Gore described his travel to various firebases where members of his engineering company were at work: "I took my turn regularly on the perimeter in these little firebases out in the boonies. Something would move, we'd fire first and ask questions later." Gore also stated to the Baltimore Sun that, "I pulled my turn on the perimeter at night and walked through the elephant grass, and I was fired upon." (reported in the Los Angeles Times 10/15/99 and The Washington Post 12/31/99) Gore had an M-16 rifle assigned to him, which he carried on only a few occasions. However, Gore refers to having an M-16 assigned to him, as well showing photographs of him with the rifle in political ads, as if carrying or using the rifle was something he did on a regular basis. (The Washington Post 12/31/99, The Washington Post 6/27/99)
According to Michael O'Hara, Gore's closest army buddy, "We never pulled guard duty in the field because we weren't part of those units. The only place we stood guard was back at Bien Hoa," the secure base where Gore lived. "It was the equivalent of being a school crossing guard. I know guys that didn't even take their rifles with them." (The National Review, November, 1999) Other soldiers with long experience in Vietnam said that Gore was treated differently from his fellow enlistees. H. Alan Leo, a photographer in the press brigade office where Gore worked as a reporter, said soldiers were ordered to keep Gore out of harm's way. "It blew me away," Leo said. "I was to make sure he didn't get into a situation he could not get out of. They didn't want him to get into trouble. So we went into the field after the fact [after combat actions], and that limited his exposure to any hazards." (Los Angeles Times 10/15/99) Leo described his half-dozen or so trips into the field with Gore as situations where "I could have worn a tuxedo." (Newsweek, 12/6/99) Gore's story changed to the more "accurate" version in his October 1999 interview with Talk magazine, though he wasn't asked why the story has now changed.
In Gore's first debate with Bill Bradley in October, 1999, Gore emphasized numerous times that he "came back from Vietnam." Do people really believe that this wasn't mentioned to give to give the impression that he went to Vietnam and fought for a period of time? Why else would he continually mention this?
Other statements about Gore's service also lead to the conclusion that he served in a combat role. In a Hardball rebroadcast on September 6, 1999, Chris Matthews, when speaking to Pat Buchanan, stated, "He [Al Gore] also fought in Vietnam, I mean, he served in Vietnam in a military capacity." This comment was preceded by a discussion of the baby boomer generation, and Pat Buchanan's comments about how many baby boomers fought in Vietnam. In November 1998, Gore attended an unveiling of three new postage stamps which recalled the fighting men of World War II and those who supported them on the home front. Gore is referred to as a Vietnam Veteran. (http://caller-times.com/autoconv/newsus98/newsus145.html) Yes, Gore is a Vietnam Veteran, but if Gore is at a ceremony which honors those who have fought in combat, and he is then referred to as a veteran, does this not imply that he too, fought in combat?
This of course isn't meant to be misleading -- right? I am sure he assumes everyone will realize that he served by spending five months writing articles. When Gore talks about "serving in Vietnam" and "carrying an M-16" and "being shot at" I'm sure he isn't expecting that people will assume he fought in combat, right?
Sure, and I have a private jet in my backyard. Really. A water jet on my sprinkler system! I am sure that by saying "jet" everyone assumed I was referring to my sprinkler, right?
People have also e-mailed me and claimed that Republicans such as Dan Quayle dodged the draft while Gore served his country. "Quayle and others just served in the National Guard," they cry. "They got preferential treatment because of who they were!" First, many people legally signed up for the National Guard instead of waiting for their draft notice. It wasn't just a "way for the rich to avoid serving" as some people often conclude. In fact, some National Guard units were called into combat. Company D, the most highly decorated Army in Vietnam, was a National Guard unit from Muncie, Indiana. Obviously, the chance of being called to Vietnam if one was in the National Guard was slim, but some units were called. I doubt those in Company D, who lost their lives in Vietnam, would be considered draft-dodgers. In addition, if one voluntarily enlisted in the Army, rather than taking a chance and waiting for a draft notice, he usually was not sent into combat and was instead given behind-the-lines jobs. According to Army historians, the fact that Gore enlisted, avoiding the vagaries of the draft, increased the likelihood that he would get the job he wanted. In practice, they said, the military favored those who joined voluntarily. (Washington Post 12/30/99)
Secondly, if people believe that those who enlisted in the National Guard "got in" because of preferential treatment, then they should acknowledge that Gore may have also received preferential treatment. If people conclude that entrance to the National Guard was based on preference, then they should acknowledge that it may not just be a coincidence that Al Gore, son of Senator Al Gore, landed a spot as a journalist for five months.
I must emphasize that the issue is not the fact that Gore served in Vietnam as a journalist, but that he and others, I feel, have tried to misrepresent his level of service. It is also hypocritical to on one hand, paint anyone who served in the National Guard as a draft-dodger who obtained preferential treatment, and on the other hand, deny that Gore could have benefited the same way.
If people want to talk about draft dodgers, perhaps they ought to start a discourse about Bill Clinton.
This article copyright © 1999-2000 by Carolyn Gargaro and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.