Hillary Clinton’s story about Marines rejection scrutinized after retelling

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton resurrected a story that has been met with skepticism about how she was rejected by a Marine recruiter in the 1970s.

The Democratic presidential frontrunner reminisced about her brief exchange with the young man during a small-scale event called Candidate Café in Manchester, N.H., on Tuesday.

“He looks at me and he goes, ‘Um, how old are you?’ And I said, ‘Well I am 26. I’ll be 27.’ And he goes, ‘Well, that’s kind of old for us.’ And then he says to me — and this is what gets me — ‘Maybe the dogs will take you,’ meaning the Army,” Clinton said to a small group of undecided voters over breakfast, which was organized by local ABC affiliate WMUR-TV and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and Political Library.

Clinton has told the story several times since at least the mid-1990s. But some have questioned whether a Yale law school graduate who led anti-war protests, campaigned for anti-war presidential candidates and was teaching law at the University of Arkansas would want to enlist in 1975: the year she got married and the Vietnam War ended.

In June 1994, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote with clear skepticism about the then-first lady telling the story to highlight how far women had come during a lunch on Capitol Hill honoring military women.

According to this telling, a chauvinist recruiter, who was about 21, quickly dismissed Clinton’s inquiry about joining because of her age, thick glasses and gender: “You’re too old, you can’t see and you’re a woman.”

“It was not a very encouraging conversation,” Clinton said, according to the column. “I decided maybe I’ll look for another way to serve my country.”

The Washington Post tracked down some of Clinton’s friends who confirmed that she approached the recruiter but said she did not actually want to enlist.

Ann Henry, a fellow professor at the University of Arkansas, reportedly said that female faculty members would conduct “tests” routinely to see which career paths were closed off to women.


Hillary Clinton’s story about trying to join the Marines in 1975 has been met with skepticism over the years. (Photo: Don Emmert/AFP)

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, repeated the story — swapping the Marines for the Army — while addressing a crowd in Columbus, Ind., in April 2008, according to an ABC News report.

“I remember when we were young, right out of law school, she went down and tried to join the Army and they said ‘Your eyes are so bad, nobody will take you,’” he said.

Conservative bloggers dug up the story this week in reaction to Politico’s controversial article accusing retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson of fabricating a narrative about receiving a “full scholarship” from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

According to these right-wing critics, the fact that the media has been scrutinizing Carson’s claims while, from their perspective, not focusing on Clinton’s Marine recruitment story is an example of liberal bias.

After the latest remarks in New Hampshire, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler reached out to Henry again. She still recalls the conversation about testing the limits available to women.

She said Marine recruiting offices were on campus so it would have been easy for Clinton to stop by and conduct one of these tests.

Kessler gave the story “two Pinocchios” for the paper’s popular “Fact Checker” blog because she presents it as a matter of public service.

“Clinton suggests she simply decided to join the Marines, as part of [a] way to serve the country,” he wrote Thursday. “But it makes more sense that she approached the Marines as part of a deliberate effort to test the boundaries available to women.”