Sunday, December 1, 2013

Max Cleland's 'Heart of a Patriot'

Review by Bill Doughty


"Heart of a Patriot" by Max Cleland with Ben Raines is a deeply personal and fearless account of a life of towering summits and dark valleys.

The former Army Airborne captain and decorated Vietnam combat veteran lost both legs and most of his right arm during the Battle of Khe Sanh in a grenade explosion.

In the book's foreword, "An Open Letter to America's Veterans," Cleland speaks candidly about his post-traumatic stress disorder and "a journey to the dark places of life -- terror, fear, death, wounding, loss, grief, despair and hopelessness."  

He writes for fellow veterans trapped in "a misery of memories" and offers light and hope.  "Recovery is possible," he writes.  "There are people who can help."
Max Cleland

Publisher SimonandShuster writes, "Max Cleland describes with love the ties America's soldiers forge with one another, along with the disillusionment many of them experience when they come home.  He spares no one his humiliations and setbacks in this gut-wrenching account of his life in the hope it will keep even one veteran from descending into darkness.  'Heart of a Patriot' is a story about the joy of serving the country you love, no matter the cost -- and how to recover from the deepest wounds of war."
Max Cleland is the keynote speaker at this year's Navy and National Park Service 72nd Pearl Harbor Day Ceremony, Dec. 7, 2013 near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Cleland's father joined the Navy and shipped out to Pearl Harbor after war was declared.  His dad returned home Dec. 8, 1945 when Max was three and a half.

Cleland was inspired to public service and to join the military by President John F. Kennedy, especially in the wake of JFK's assassination 50 years ago.
In bed at Walter Reed in 1968, Cleland reads Arthur Schlesinger's
"A Thousand Days" about President John F. Kennedy.
After his promising future was "blown to bits" Capt. Cleland made a slow recovery at Walter Reed and then through the Veteran's Administration, getting a first-hand look at the institution he would run one day.

Later, after serving for more than a decade in state politics in Georgia he received an appointment as head of the VA by former Georgia Governor and newly elected President Jimmy Carter, a Navy veteran.

Cleland created VA centers to help millions of veterans, including returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan.  "Their creation is one of the things I am most proud of," he writes.

Elected to the U.S. Senate, Cleland became chairman of the armed services subcommittee on personnel.  His colleagues, mentors and friends in the Senate included fellow combat veterans Chuck Hagel, Dan Inouye, John Kerry and "my Vietnam veteran brother" John McCain.  He describes the pride of wearing his dad's WWII Navy peacoat as a U.S. Senator during a presidential inauguration.

After the Al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 Cleland was appointed to the 9/11 Commission but said he was frustrated by a lack of access to key intelligence information leading up to the attacks.

In the chapter, "An Infamous Commission," he links aspects of the 9/11 Commission with the Warren Commission that investigated the JFK assassination.  He also compared the 9/11 lack of transparency with the investigation after the Pearl Harbor attack.
"Within the first week after that tragedy, Roosevelt had set up a commission to investigate it and all its ramifications.  Just 10 days after the attack, he relieved both the naval commander at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, and the army commander, General Walter Short, of their jobs based on the commission findings.  Every aspect of the government's inner workings, from diplomacy to military readiness and intelligence, was laid bare for the commission to examine. And in the end, Roosevelt got his man: Within three years, he had personally given the order to shoot down the plane carrying Admiral Yamamoto, the Harvard-educated enemy warrior who planned the attack."
The book describes in painful detail the bouts of depression that Max Cleland endured during his life of public service.  Poignantly, Cleland, who "grew up in the golden era of rock," describes a moment alone listening to the Beatles and Paul McCartney's "Yesterday," feeling like "half the man I used to be."

"Heart of a Patriot" concludes with another message directly for veterans, especially for those suffering from polytrauma. He imagines and then creates a better future.  Through faith and hope and the help of others, there is "something to stand on" and a way to fly out of the darkness, he writes.

Max Cleland is set to speak to the Greatest Generation and "the greatest of our generation" at Saturday's Pearl Harbor Day commemoration.  Max Cleland, a self-described "war baby" was born August 24, 1942.  Do the math, and he was conceived just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

President Barak Obama appointed Cleland as Secretary of American Battle Monuments Commission in June 2009.

Max Cleland, Secretary American Battle Monuments Commission, gives remarks, Nov. 11, 2012, during a Veterans Day ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. (Department of Defense photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth)

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