The F-102's Record in Vietnam

Vietnam Air Losses

You hear a lot about Bush's excellence and valor in learning how to fly the F-102. This plane was in use in Vietnam, but as Bush graduated from flight school, the news came down the wire that it was being phased out of use in the conflict.

Bush himself has characterized his choice to become a fighter pilot in terms that make it clear he was avoiding the draft:

I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Nor was I willing to go to Canada. So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes.
Becoming a interceptor jet pilot is nothing to laugh at, however. Since he did actually master flying this jet, which is one of the more difficult planes to fly, as I understand it, Bush deserves the credit for this feat.

And since the F-102 was being used in Vietnam, and Bush's unit was seeing service over there, Bush can be further credited for putting himself, if not in harm's way, then in the possibility of harm's way.

Perhaps. Here's an interesting question: How many F-102s were lost over the skies of North Vietnam?

According to this newgroup archive, exactly one.

HanoiNow explains in a comment at a former Air National Guardswoman's blog.
Probably [the low level of loss] has something to do with the fact that the F-102 was a '50s-era high-altitude interceptor built to stop slow-moving Russian nuclear bombers; it was a lousy dogfighter and had no ground-attack capabilities. Since North Vietnam had no air force to speak of, you were unlikely to get shot down in an F-102. F-105s, F-4s and A-4s got shot down 'cause they were used for ground attack and were taken out by ack-ack and SAMs.

So if it's true that GWB "joined to fly F-102s", then he had the right idea, picking that shiny supersonic coke-bottle; even if he had gone to Vietnam he'd have had to be pretty darn unlucky to get shot down. It also casts the "he volunteered to go but didn't have enough flight time" point in a different light. He volunteered to go zip along at Mach 2 and 30,000 feet, providing air superiority against an almost nonexistent enemy air force. If he'd been flying choppers, or, say, skippering fast river attack boats, that would've been a different story.

It's Still Bovine in Origin
Indeed. So as Bush saw it, his choices were Canada, popping out his eardrums, or learning to fly a plane that flew high above the Vietnamese defenses, should he actually be called into active service in Vietnam.

That doesn't sound particularly heroic to me.