Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Max Cleland: 'I Cried Uncontrollably for 2 1/2 Years'
In a phone interview on Monday, former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland was upbeat – "What's goin' on, kid?'' – and quick to laugh. But after losing his U.S. Senate seat to an opponent who ran post-9/11 TV ads that showed the decorated Vietnam vet alongside Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, Cleland fell into a depression he was afraid he might not pull out of. It was public service, he says, that had given his life shape and meaning after he left three limbs on a battlefield in Khe Sanh. But without that role, the old darkness came back. Along with his job and his bearings, he lost his relationship with his fiancée. "That's emotionally and physically over,'' he told me. "That's gone.'' And for a time, he was once again a patient at Walter Reed, where he'd first been put back together nearly four decades earlier – and was now surrounded by vets from Iraq and Afghanistan: "I cried uncontrollably for 2 ½ years.''
In his new memoir, "Heart of a Patriot: How I found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove," written with Ben Raines, Cleland describes his journey to hell and back, twice, this last time because "Karl Rove managed to take away our service,'' he says, referring to himself and his friend and fellow veteran John Kerry. Visually, the 2002 ad for his Republican opponent, Saxby Chambliss, suggested that Cleland was in league with terrorists, while the voice-over announced that he'd voted against the Homeland Security legislation he had actually co-sponsored...