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Heart of a Patriot, How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove

by Max Cleland with Ben Raines, Simon and Schuster, 2009

By any measure, Max Cleland has lived a life full of pain and agony at a level endured by few. Conversely, Max Cleland has attained levels of success and accomplishment few could imagine reaching.

He was down, and nearly out, after an accidental grenade wounding in Vietnam in 1968 left him with one limb remaining. He was up, in a three-decade long political career that saw him win elections to Georgia state offices, lead the Veterans Administration at the tender age of 34 and then win a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1996.

But Senator Cleland’s reelection bid in 2002 resulted in an almost unfathomable turn of events as the post 9/11 scorched-earth political climate saw Cleland’s very patriotism as an American questioned and his seat won by his conservative opponent. It also led to what Cleland called (see Interview, p. 16) the “collapse” of his life. “I went down in every way you can go down.”

In Heart of a Patriot, Cleland takes us on a painful journey into his own hell, from the torment, both physical and emotional, of his catastrophic wounding due to own momentary carelessness, to the agony he endured to survive and recover.

His personal struggles, then and three decades later, are laid bare for all to see in this vivid memoir. How Max Cleland has coped with his adversity, how he has taken ownership and control of his past rather than letting it dictate his future is an inspiration for all, but especially so for the thousands of Vietnam veterans still suffering and for the veterans of today’s conflicts.


Originally published in the December 2009 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here