Saturday, November 07, 2009

A Profile In Courage: Max Cleland

Compare the military records of these two Georgians:

Max Cleland
Senator, Georgia (1997-2003)
Age 67
Born Atlanta, Georgia, August 24, 1942

Max Cleland then served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War, attaining the rank of Captain. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for valorous action in combat, including during the Battle of Khe Sanh on April 4, 1968.

On April 8, 1968, Captain Cleland was the Battalion Signal Officer for the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during the Battle of Khe Sanh.

On April 8, with a month left in his tour, Cleland was ordered to set up a radio relay station on a nearby hill. A helicopter flew him and two soldiers to the treeless top of Hill 471, east of Khe Sanh. Cleland knew some of the soldiers camped there from Operation Pegasus. He told the pilot he was going to stay a while and maybe have a few beers with friends.

When the helicopter landed, Cleland jumped out, followed by the two soldiers. They ducked beneath the rotors and turned to watch the liftoff. Cleland reached down to pick up a grenade he believed had popped off his flak jacket. It exploded, and the blast slammed him backward, shredding both his legs and one arm.

David Lloyd was a gung-ho, 19-year-old enlisted Marine, son of a Baltimore, Maryland ship worker, who went to Vietnam because he "wanted to kill Communists."

On that day, he was in a mortar pit on a hill near Khe Sanh when he heard the explosion. Fragments bounced off his flak jacket. He ran to the injured Cleland, saying 'Hold on there, captain, the chopper will be here in a minute.'

Lloyd took off his web belt and tied it around one of Cleland's shredded legs. When the medics arrived, he left to help another injured soldier — one of the two who had gotten off the helicopter with Cleland.

That unnamed soldier was crying. 'It was mine,' he said, 'it was my grenade.'

According to Lloyd, the private had failed to take the extra precaution that experienced soldiers did when they grabbed M-26 grenades from the ammo box: bend the pins, or tape them in place, so they couldn't accidentally dislodge. This soldier had a flak jacket full of grenades with treacherously straight pins, Lloyd says. "He was a walking death trap."

Due to the severity of his injuries, doctors amputated both of Cleland's legs above the knee and his right forearm.
He was 25 years old.

Saxby Chambliss
Senator, Georgia; Armed Services Committee
Age 65
Born Warrenton, North Carolina, November 10, 1943

Military service None

Reason Five student deferments (University of Georgia 1966; University of Tennessee College of Law 1968) and 1-Y medical deferment for bad knees (football injuries).

Quote "Max Cleland says he has the courage to lead. But the record proves Max Cleland is just misleading." (Campaign ad questioning patriotism of Democratic opponent Max Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam.)

In the Senate election of 2002 in Georgia, Senator Max Cleland was "Swift-Boated" by the Chambliss campaign (masterminded by Turd Blossom — aka Karl Rove). The voters in Georgia drank Rove's Kool-Aid and turned Max Cleland out of office. Those same voters are attending Tea Party events these days in the Peach State. Shame on them. Shame on Karl Rove. Shame on Saxby Chambliss. They slandered a hero who lost both legs and part of his right arm in Vietnam. Rove, Chambliss, and all of the Swift-Boating Tea Baggers are not fit to lick the soles of Max Cleland's shoes. If there is a Hell, may Rove, Chambliss, and the Tea Baggers burn there through all eternity. If this is (fair & balanced) disgust at the sight of Dumbo "patriotism," so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
The Forever War Of The Mind
By Max Cleland

Tag Cloud of the following article

created at

“Every day I was in Vietnam, I thought about home. And, every day I’ve been home, I’ve thought about Vietnam.” So said one of the millions of soldiers who fought there as I did. Change the name of the battlefield and it could have been said by one of the American servicemen coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan today. Wars are not over when the shooting stops. They live on in the lives of those who fight them. That is the curse of the soldier. He never forgets.

While the authorities say they cannot yet tell us why an Army psychiatrist would go on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood in Texas, we do know the sorts of stories he had been dealing with as he tried to help those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan readjust to life outside the war zone. A soldier’s mind can be just as dangerous to himself, and to those around him, as wars fought on traditional battlefields.

War is haunting. Death. Pain. Blood. Dismemberment. A buddy dying in your arms. Imagine trying to get over the memory of a bomb splitting a Humvee apart beneath your feet and taking your leg with it. The first time I saw the stilled bodies of American soldiers dead on the battlefield is as stark and brutal a memory as the one of the grenade that ripped off my right arm and both legs.

No, the soldier never forgets. But neither should the rest of us.

Veterans returning today represent the first real influx of combat-wounded soldiers in a generation. They are returning to a nation unprepared for what war does to the soul. Those new veterans will need all of our help. After America’s wars, the used-up fighters are too often left to fend for themselves. Many of the hoboes in the Depression were veterans of World War I. When they came home, they were labeled shell-shocked and discharged from the Army too broken to make it during the economic cataclysm.

So it is again, with too many stories about veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan ending up unemployed and homeless. Figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs show that 131,000 of the nation’s 24 million veterans are homeless each night, and about twice that many will spend part of this year homeless.

We know of the recent failures at Walter Reed Medical Center, where soldiers were stranded in substandard barracks infested with rats while awaiting treatment. I was in Walter Reed myself at that time seeking counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder, which, ignited by a barrage of Iraq headlines and the loss of my United States Senate seat, had simply consumed me.

I never saw it coming. Forty years after I had left the battlefield, my memories of death and wounding were suddenly as fresh and present as they had been in 1968. I thought I was past that. I learned that none of us are ever past it. Were it not for the surgeons and nurses at Walter Reed, I never would have survived those first months back from Vietnam. Were it not for the counselors there today, I do not think I would have survived what I’ve come to call my second Vietnam, the one that played out entirely in my mind.

When I was wounded, post-traumatic stress disorder did not officially exist. It was recognized as a legitimate illness only in 1978, during my tenure as head of the Veterans Administration under President Jimmy Carter. Today, it is not only recognized, but the Army and the V.A. know how to treat it. I can offer no better testament than my own recovery.

Weeks before the troubles at Walter Reed became public in 2007, my counselor put it to me simply. “We are drowning in war,” she said. The problems at Walter Reed had nothing to do with the dedicated doctors and nurses there. The problems had to do with the White House and Congress and the Department of Defense. The problems had to do with money.

When we are at war, America spends billions on missiles, tanks, attack helicopters and such. But the wounded warriors who will never fight again tend to be put on the back burner.

This is inexcusable, and it comes with frightening moral costs. There are estimates that 35 percent of the soldiers who fought in Iraq will suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. I’m sure the numbers for Afghanistan are similar. Researchers have found that nearly half of those returning with the disorder have suicidal thoughts. Suicide among active-duty soldiers is on pace to hit a record total this year. More than 1.7 million soldiers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Imagine that some 600,000 of them will have crippling memories, trapped in a vivid and horrible past from which they can’t seem to escape.

We have a family Army today, unlike the Army seen in any generation before. We have fought these wars with the Reserves and the National Guard. Fathers, mothers, soccer coaches and teachers are the soldiers coming home. Whether they like it or not, they will bring their war experiences home to their families and communities.

In his poem “The Dead Young Soldiers,” [scroll down] Archibald MacLeish, whose younger brother died in World War I, has the soldiers in the poem tell us:“We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.” Until we help our returning soldiers get their lives back when they come home, the promise of restoring that meaning will go unfulfilled. Ω

[Max Cleland, the secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission, was a Democratic senator from Georgia from 1997 to 2003. He is the author, with Ben Raines, of Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove (2009).]

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