records furnished by the National Personnel Records Center under the Freedom of Information Act, Alberto Gonzales didn’t go straight into the academy but instead attended the U.S. Air Force Preparatory School from July 28, 1974, to June 30, 1975. Presuming Gonzales’s government records to be accurate, he would have been in a select group of 200 to 250 students at the prep school who were immersed in an often grueling program that started in midsummer 1974. His military records show that Gonzales was finally admitted to the U.S. Air Force Academy on July 1, 1975. Within a year it was clear that Gonzales no longer had any interest in filling out his four-year commitment to the academy nor in completing his five-year commitment to remain in service to the military after graduation. Gonzales began investigating ways to expedite his departure. He later told the Washington Post in 2001 that he was homesick for Houston and that he wanted to be a lawyer. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that “he grew restless with science and engineering courses?’ Other reports indicate his eyesight was no longer good enough to be a jet pilot. His interest in the academy was waning in direct correlation to the difficulty of the courses. Gonzales became the freshman class council president. He still harbored ambitions of maybe being a fighter pilot and took a program learning to fly gliders, but he was struggling with school: Gonzales decided that he wanted to leave the military altogether Years later, he said in a speech, “My first year in Colorado Springs was a good one… I became interested in politics and law. I began to wonder whether I should follow a different path. Given the extraordinary effort just to secure my service academy nomination, you can understand how I agonized over this decision. Ultimately, I simply put it into God’s hands by applying for a transfer to the school I’d once dreamed about attending as a boy. If accepted at Rice, I would lead and pursue a legal career?’ Dean Richard Stabell at Rice sent him a letter, dated May 13, 1977, indicating that he had been accepted. It took a side trip to Fort Yukon to bring him full circle back to a place where he had worked when he was twelve. His father was still reporting to the rice mill silos, leading some maintenance crews inside the dangerous towers. His mother was still living in the little house at the far edge of the city. Planes from the airport that would later be named the George Bush Intercontinental Airport still thundered overhead. His brothers and sisters were still in the area, none of them in college, none of them moving away. Tony was going to work at the Houston Police Department and was going to become a member of the SWAT team. His sisters were still thinking of being homemakers. Maybe Tim, who took inventory and processed paperwork for a plumbing company, would find that career playing his guitar. Gonzales shared his news with them and decided that he would keep the acceptance letter from Rice University as long as possible: “This was my prayer, and the letter from Dean Stabell was my answerending the journey that began as a daydream during those Saturday afternoon football games:’ In 2005 the speculation would never ceasenor would the controversies. They were really the same things that had chased him since he first decided to become George W. Bush’s abogado. He was put on, and then off, and then on againand finally off once morethe short lists for a Supreme Court seat. He was gusted forward by the possibility of being the first Hispanic named to the court; he was shunted by those whipsawing arguments over whether he had a liberal streak, a moderate streak. He was thrust back into the tornado of conflicting opinions, arguments, and news reports about what exactly the nation’s stance on domestic spying and torture had beenand would be. With each new revelation of a clandestine domestic program to eavesdrop and spy on people, of secret prisons and of human rights violationswith each new discussion about wiretapping and waterboarding and whether torture was sanctioned as part of America’s arsenalit would circle straight back to Alberto Gonzales. For someone who prided himself on his discretion, it was perhaps a perfect irony that Gonzales’s legal opinionsthe ones he wrote and reviewed… and the ones people felt he should have written but never did came to define his public existence. He defended them as the products of a curious mind, as the end result of an ongoing intellectual process that he had embarked upon in service to his client. And yet his foes said that wasn’t enough… that he needed to move beyond his lawyerly discretion, that he needed to eloquently, passionately, firmly repudiate things so inherently anti-American, so wickedly inhumane. Of course he had succeeded in life by serving his client. His father was a desperately poor, alcoholic migrant worker; his client was born into the most powerful political dynasty in modern American history. Now on Roberta Lane the planes thundering in and out of the Bush airport still seem just beyond someone’s fingertips. And one day in the winter of 2005 five men are huddled together across the street from where Gonzales grew up. They are construction workers, taking a break from laboring on a small, wooden house. They speak in Spanish and dig their hands into their brown lunch bags. Big Houston, like it was when Gonzales grew up on Roberta Lane, is still off in the distance. Gonzales had been gusted forward by the specific circumstances of his background. He was defined by those circumstances, but he never really wanted to draw attention to them. Gonzales never let people inside his house when he was growing up. He spent a lifetime moving beyond Humble. And his father always did what he had to do, what he needed to do. There were, had to be compromises. “Sometimes when I get tired and discouraged, I think about my father and the burdens he had to carry,” he once said. Bill Minutaglio is the author of First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty and City on Fire. He lives in Austin. 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 28, 2006
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