The Texas Air National Guard 147th Fighter Interceptor Group, at Ellington Field in Houston, was dubbed the “champagne unit” because its members—the sons of Texas elite—would likely not see action in the Vietnam War. George W. Bush (son of George Bush) was in this “champagne unit,” as were the sons of Lloyd Bentsen (a Texas senator), John Tower (a Texas senator) and John Connally Jr. (a Texas governor). The nickname “champagne” (an expensive drink) implied that this wasn’t a unit of average Texans.
Wikipedia states that ”Champagne unit is a pejorative term used to describe US military units that had been staffed by celebrities or people from wealthy or politically powerful families,” but there is insufficient evidence that any other military unit shared the “champagne unit” nickname. “Champagne unit” has been cited in print since at least 1999 and became an issue in George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential reelection; 1970s and 1980s citations have not been found. George W. Bush’s autiobiography, Decision Points (2010), does not mention the nickname, nor does the nickname appear in the digitally searchable Texas Monthly.
Wikipedia: Champagne unit
Champagne unit is a pejorative term used to describe US military units that had been staffed by celebrities or people from wealthy or politically powerful families. Such units were often part of the National Guard, and assigned to lower-risk duty inside the United States. The connotation is that such units were havens for those with connections who wish to avoid conscription into more dangerous duty while still gaining the prestige afforded in the United States to military service. Over a century earlier, a term used to describe the same type of unit was silk-stocking regiment after the New York’s 7th Regiment, whose well-heeled members actually built their own armory, the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue in the upper East side of Manhattan.
During the Vietnam war, service in the National Guard and Reserve components were seen as a way to avoid combat. Although some number of Guard and Reserve units were in fact “called-up” to combat duty in every US war since they were founded, the risk was especially low in the 1970s. Only 8700 of these soldiers were sent to Vietnam, 0.3% of the personnel who served. Furthermore, a greatly disproportionate number of famous, wealthy, and/or politically connected young men received slots in the Guard or Reserves during Vietnam, including 360 professional athletes such as Bill Bradley and Nolan Ryan.
Commenting on this disparity, General Colin Powell wrote in his autobiography, “I am angry that so many sons of the powerful and well placed and many professional athletes (who were probably healthier than any of us) managed to wangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units. Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to our country.”
147th Fighter Group
The most infamous champagne unit was the Texas Air National Guard 147th Fighter Interceptor Group, at Ellington Field in Houston. During the Vietnam War many well-connected sons landed in this posting, sometimes with the help of politicians such as Ben Barnes.
. Lloyd Bentsen Jr., son of Lloyd Bentsen
. George W. Bush, son of George H. W. Bush
. John Connally III, son of John Connally Jr.
. the son of John Tower
. James R. Bath
. seven members of the Dallas Cowboys
No More Champagne
The Total Force Policy, implemented in the aftermath of the Vietnam War by General Creighton Abrams, has eliminated the Guard’s and Reserve’s shelter from combat. In 2004, National Guard and Reserve units comprised 40 percent of all US forces serving in Iraq. As of 2006, 270,000 Guard members (60% of the total force) had been deployed overseas for the maximum amount of time allowed by military regulations.
George W. Bush and the Bush family dynasty
By Bill Minutaglio
New York, NY: Times Books
One thing was still clear: most men entering the 147th Fighter Winger were under the impression that they were not going to Vietnam. Nationally, according to The New York Times and other publications, only 15,000 of the total of 1,040,000 Guardsmen and reservists would be sent to Vietnam.—In Houston, the sons of prominent families were enlisting in the Guard; some people later called it the Champagne Unit.
5 October 1999, Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram, “Politics runs in the family,” pg. 6:
Around the time he first considered a political career, Bush was serving in what some called the “Champagne Unit” of the Texas Air National Guard with Connally, son of the former governor; and Bentsen, whose father had beaten Bush’s father for the Senate a year earlier.
Google Groups: alt.politics.democrats.d
From: (Edward Cottengaim)
Subject: Bush the “fair-haired boy”
The Charlie Rose Show on 02/17/2000 PBS reported that George Bush jr, was admitted to the Texas Air National Guard “Champagne Unit” where the sons of Sen, Lloyd Benson and John Connelly also served. His position ahead of many others was granted by Texas Lieutenant Governor Tim Barnes at the behest of Congressman George Bush Sr.
New York (NY) Times
Journal; Membership Has Its Privileges
By FRANK RICH
Published: September 9, 2000
You can understand the young George W. Bush wanting to dodge Vietnam, as he did by joining the Texas Air National Guard, a k a the Champagne Unit. But what does it say that the middle-aged Mr. Bush was scared to go to Boston?
New York (NY) Times
The Jerry Bruckheimer White House
By FRANK RICH
Published: May 11, 2003
Nor was anyone about to point out how neatly the scene burnished Mr. Bush’s own spotty attendance record as a pilot during Vietnam, when he was safely at home as a member of the Texas Air National Guard, a k a the Champagne Unit for its high quotient of Houston society sons.
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Sunday, November 28, 2010 • Permalink