The Library of Congress Veterans History Project Home 
Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Max Cleland [11/20/2002]

Edwin M. Perry:

Good morning. Today we're here to interview Senator Max Cleland from Georgia. I'm Mike Perry, and with me is David Taylor. This interview is being conducted as part of the Veterans History Project, an effort by the American Folklife Center and the Library of Congress. Sir, we're glad to be here.

Max Cleland:

Glad you're here.

Edwin M. Perry:

Thank you.

Max Cleland:

I'm glad to be here.

Edwin M. Perry:

What drew you to military service? Because when I looked at your family, it was Navy. But were there other influences in your hometown that drew you to military service?

Max Cleland:

Well, it was a natural progression. My father served in the Navy at Pearl Harbor after the attack, and I grew up with that legend and that incredible story of the attack and the American response and Roosevelt and the day of infamy and the draft. And then my father joined the Navy and went through Camp Perry, Virginia, and then riding on a train all the way across the country and then getting on a LST and going for days across the Pacific and landing in Hawaii and lucky to be able to stay in Hawaii. At one time, because he had been a truck driver in the CCCs and because he had driven a truck and was a salesman for 10 years with the Atlanta Land(?) Company, he was at one time billeted to be a driver for Admiral Nemetz. So he didn't get the job, but he did stay at Pearl Harbor as shore patrol. And so there are pictures I have that I've seen since I was just two years old of him on his scooter with his shore patrol badge and his .45. And you know. I grew up with that whole legend of Pearl Harbor and military service. Also the draft was under way. A lot of people now, since 1973, have no idea about the power of the draft because it was -- but it was something that was over the head of every 18-year-old male in America. And you had to make a decision. So when I went to Stetson University in DeLand, Florida for college, I had to make a quick decision when I was 18 to join ROTC and see if I liked ROTC and maybe graduate not only with a degree, but with a second lieutenant commission or graduate from college and then go in as an enlisted man, which didn't seem like too good an idea, so I got involved in ROTC. Keep in mind, we had a whole battalion of young males in the early '60s in ROTC because there were same choices. Ultimately after the draft was over, that ROTC detachment packed up and went home. There was no more ROTC on the campus, which I think is a sad thing. But anyway, that's how I got involved in Army ROTC. It was the only ROTC offered to me. Actually my dream was to become a Navy pilot, but that never materialized. At one time, I thought I'd be a helicopter pilot. But that didn't materialize. I ended up going to graduate school. So basically I was attracted to 1st Air Cavalry Division, which was the first big unit sent to Vietnam by President Johnson, and volunteered for the cav twice, once in '66, and then I was siphoned off to be an aide to a brigadier general, but then in 1967, I volunteered again and went with the 1st Air Cavalry Division, the Army's old helicopter outfit. So I got to fly a lot, just not under the controls. I got to fly a lot and spent a lot of time in helicopters.

Edwin M. Perry:

While you were in ROTC, what type of subjects did they teach you, and was the focus still European war?

Max Cleland:

When I look back now -- oh, yeah. The basic training for the Army regular program was to fill a slot in the 7th Army in Europe and, you know, man the lines. And it was the whole European Cold War doctrine of mutually assured destruction with nuclear weapons as our failsafe device. And the Army was just there as a tripwire to hold the Warsaw Pact nations for three days. Then we'd drop a tactical nuke on them. I mean, that was basically the strategy. But in 1962, I signed up for a class at night called counterinsurgency, and it was about some of the British experience out of Malaya, which I later learned was the definitive experience because now I draw on that experience because the British did learn in Malaya that the terrorist doesn't win -- if the terrorist doesn't lose, it wins. And now I look at the British experience in Malaya, which was successful, which is now we have Malaysia and a booming economy, and the American experience in Vietnam for 10 years where we didn't learn those lessons, gave sanctuary to the enemy. The terrorist did not lose, and we lost. And now Vietnam, you know, is not much better off than it was 40, 50, 60 years ago. So you know, we've learned painfully the lessons of Vietnam. At least I have. And now I try to apply those every day in our war against terrorism. And we have to learn that the British experience was right, where they -- they came up with the anvil and the hammer and the cordon and all this kind of stuff. You isolate the terrorists from the -- from the community, from the citizens, and you basically ultimately kill or capture them, and that there's no alternative. And the terrorists play by no rules and they take no prisoners. Now we're understanding that. But in Vietnam, we didn't. It was a war of increments, increasing the quotient of pain as McNamara said. Johnson never really understood it. McNamara never really understood it. Few people understood it. Much to our chagrin.

Edwin M. Perry:

We'll get there to talk a little bit about your experiences. Your ROTC program, when you graduated, you went off to graduate school. Was that your choice or did --

Max Cleland:

Actually, when I was a young junior, I thought, well, I'm going to do this ROTC thing, and I'm beginning to like it. And I want to be a helicopter pilot. So I figured my future after undergraduate school was -- was just going to be go to -- go to helicopter sch -- go in the Army, go to helicopter school, go to Vietnam, get shot at, and then we'll see what happens. So that was my future until I came on the Washington semester program at American University the first semester of my senior year. And that changed my life literally because after a week or two in Washington, seeing, as they say, government in action -- quite frankly I was much more interested in the action than in government.

Edwin M. Perry:

(laughter)

Max Cleland:

Maybe still am.

Edwin M. Perry:

(laughter)

Max Cleland:

But I -- I met members of the Senate. I met members of the Congress. I was infatuated by the whole Washington scene and by Jack Kennedy and "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," and by the spirit of the new frontier. And I was 21 years of age. I think back about Wordsworth comment in 19 -- in 1798, in the wake of the French Revolution and this empowerment that swept Europe of the individual and said, "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, and to be young was pure heaven." And I had that experience when I was 21 in the fall of '63. That turned me on to American politics, and I'm -- I'm still turned on by it.

Edwin M. Perry:

When you went to Emory, what did -- did you study politics --

Max Cleland:

Yeah. I then decided I didn't want to be a helicopter pilot and get shot at. I really needed to learn more about this thing called government and politics. And so I went -- I applied to Emory Graduate School --

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Max Cleland:

-- and ultimately got a $1200 assistanceship, I think, to go to Emory Graduate School. I also applied to George Washington University on American studies. Got accepted, but no money. So I -- I went to Emory and got the money and studied in effect American history. But it wasn't just pure American history. It was American studies. It was an interdisciplinary course -- American literature, American politics, American history -- to see -- as Matthew Arnold said, "see life steadily and see it whole," see the whole American experience, the whole American character, as it was called in those days, as a whole. And that has been great background for me as I've entered politics.

Edwin M. Perry:

In 1965, you -- you entered the Army. I believe that was the year.

Max Cleland:

18 October, 1965. And no man ever or woman ever went on active duty with a greater sense of pride, with a greater sense of wanting to be there, with thank God I finally get my chance to make my mark in life. I'd get out of the academic world. I'd had it with school. And -- and I really wanted to -- to tackle life in all its -- all its grandeur.

Edwin M. Perry:

You get to go to airborne school?

Max Cleland:

Yeah. Which is a few days -- few weeks into -- into being young (inaudible) officer at Fort -- Fort Gordon, I said, you know, I'm going to -- I'm going to tackle this thing called -- called jump school. So after Fort Gordon and then microwave radio officer training at Fort Monmouth, which is where I got selected to be an aide, I went to jump school where I knew I was crazy then. I mean, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, you know you're flat-out crazy, but that was a great experience to survive (laughter) and to get my wings pinned upon my chest. And back in those days, that was what you're supposed to do. I mean, keep in mind, in 1964 or '65, Barry Sadler's song, you know, "The Ballad of the Green Berets," was number one song in America. He was on The Ed Sullivan Show. So Special Forces, Vietnam, airborne -- that was all de rigueur. That was all, you know, what was happening. And I was very much interested in -- in the action and -- and went to jump school, was an aide for a year Stateside to a general and then volunteered for Vietnam.

Edwin M. Perry:

Can you tell us about the first time you jumped out of an airplane?

Max Cleland:

(inaudible) Cleland, you are the dumbest human being that God ever created. And I felt that way. But I did it.

Edwin M. Perry:

What were the troops like? Your --

Max Cleland:

What's that?

Edwin M. Perry:

The troops, the soldiers in the class, your peers, junior officers --

Max Cleland:

You mean my -- my comrades?

Edwin M. Perry:

Your comrades.

Max Cleland:

First and second lieutenants? I found myself very much a part of them. I did not know that there were so many people like me. We weren't particularly hardcore, West Point, killer warriors, but we weren't particularly just academicians out for a stroll in the sun either. I think everybody had a sense of -- of obligation, a sense of duty. We weren't fanatical, but we felt like we had to take our place in the line. I mean, now, that basic fundamental feeling, I think, is -- is epitomized, I guess, in Stephen Ambrose story, Citizen Soldier. I mean, in American history, you really have -- each time we go to war, have some commitment. You have just basic Americans who just feel that in their gut, that they have a duty and obligation to take their place in the line, whatever that place is. And that's really, I think, the strength of American defense. We need the professionals. We need the weapon systems. But after six years on the Armed Service Committee, my view is still the same as it was when I was a young lieutenant in Vietnam with those kids in the foxhole, you know. Their just sheer willingness to do their -- do their thing and take their place in the line is the strength of America, the strength of our defense. When we lose that, we've lost it. And so that was just a feeling in '64, '65, '66. And the feeling that I had that there was a war on and I was a young lieutenant, by now first lieutenant, and I -- I felt kind of guilty drinking sherry and being an aide to a general and living the life of luxury on the -- on the Jersey seaboard, although it was great fun; I think it was probably the best times of my life. But I felt that I needed to take my place in the line. I mean, I couldn't get over that. I couldn't get around it. And I couldn't -- and I didn't want to avoid the war of my generation. I mean, yeah, I knew this was going to be big. And as a history major, you know, these defining moments in American history come along every now and then. And if you really want to learn about it, you really hope to be part of America in the future, you'd better get in there and understand it so you can be a good leader afterward. So that's part of my ethos, my ethic. I volunteered to Vietnam, to take my place in the line, to learn what I could learn about it, to do my part and to keep my faith with my country and with my fellow soldiers. And I paid a heck of a price for it, almost didn't make it back. But now in the Senate, as I vote to send young men to war to Kosovo, to Bosnia, to Afghanistan, you know, I have a sixth sense about what they're going through. And I don't -- and I take this responsibility very, very seriously. I happen to think that committing young men and women in harm's way is the most serious decision our government can ever make and that it must be taken with all seriousness, with -- with a great sense of perspective and with a great sense that you don't commit unless you're going to be successful. And those are powerful lessons I learned out of Vietnam.

Edwin M. Perry:

So while you were at Fort Benning, the 11th Air Assault Test Division was there.

Max Cleland:

Yeah. Yeah. In a strange way, me and the 1st Cav were destined to be part of one another. And of course when I see the movie We Were Soldiers based on Hal Moore's great -- great book, We Were Soldiers Once... and Young, you know, I look back. And I went to that movie, and of course it brought -- I cried. That's all you can do when you go to that. Because the 1st Cav for me was the epitome of smart war because in '63, summer of '63, when I went to summer camp at Benning for ROTC, I was at Harmony Church. And I was the first barracks across the street from the 11th Air Assault headquarters. So literally, I mean, we were kept awake at night by those choppers coming in and out, in and out, in and out from the Harmony Church headquarters. And then Brigadier General Harry Kinnard, who was an airborne trooper out of World War II and who in the Army strategy wanted to overcome the tyranny of terrain -- you know, for Army guys, overcoming the tyranny of terrain was the challenge, whether airborne or air assault. And the whole air assault using helicopters was a brand-new idea. So they tested it out, the 11th Air Assault Test Division. And so I saw that happening. I went over there and talked to those warrant officers that had just come back from Vietnam that were testing out the choppers and whatever.

Edwin M. Perry:

You're talking about 1963?

Max Cleland:

'63. And summer of '63. And my appetite was whet -- whetted for this kind of war because I quickly found out marching through the jungles down there in Fort Benning in the swamps, that I wanted to be up there in the helicopter, not down there. And if I ever got down there, I wanted to get there by helicopter. So it was a pretty simple decision for me, but that was the way to go to war. That was the way to fight in Vietnam. That was the way to avoid the French experience in Vietnam of being ground-bound and then being set up for the -- for the -- especially what Bernard Fall talks about in his great book, Street Without Joy, the massacre of the Groupe Mobile 100 outside of An Khe on Highway 19. Now, if you look at the movie We Were Soldiers Once... and Young or We Were Soldiers, Hal Moore studied that history, and he knew that the Vietnamese were great -- North Vietnamese were great at ambush and massacre, much like the -- Custer fell into. And so he understood that you don't get exposure, you don't put your troops in there, and how to deal with that. So when the key battle comes at -- in the Battle of la Drang Valley, Moore understood the history of not getting yourself into an ambush situation, not getting yourself sucked in, and how to deal with that. And that saved his battalion --

Edwin M. Perry:

Yep.

Max Cleland:

-- and helped save the 1st Air Cav Division. But we didn't learn our real lessons from that. Later, three years later, I'm involved in a much bigger operation, the 1st Air Cavalry Division air assault into the Khe Sanh perimeter that rescued 5,000 Marines up against three North Vietnamese divisions. So we never particularly learned our lessons about the Battle of la Drang. We just continued to just repeat those lessons more and more. So when you mentioned about the troops, I'll say I've gotten to know Hal Moore. He said, you know, he said, the book is not a war story. It's a love story. And I look back now at my young troops, and I love them more now than I did then. I wish I could put my arms around all of them because we went through something very special, very unique, the camaraderie of the battlefield, the camaraderie of the foxhole and the trenches. And -- and even today when I see one of my young troops, I embrace them. And I think Vietnam veterans just try to embrace one another because we -- we were isolated and pretty much left alone and abandoned by the country. And if we didn't have each other, we didn't have anything. So when I came back, I -- and became head of the VA, I was proud to put together the vet center counseling program so that Vietnam veterans could at least hold on to one another --

Edwin M. Perry:

Yes.

Max Cleland:

-- and survive.

Edwin M. Perry:

You chose Signal Corps or did Signal Corps choose you?

Max Cleland:

Yeah. No. I chose the Signal Corps because I wanted to be shot at every other day, not every day.

Edwin M. Perry:

(laughter)

Max Cleland:

I figured if I went infantry, I'd be dead. I wanted to be part of the action, but I just didn't want to get killed being part of the action. And so I figured I'd volunteer to get shot at every other day, not every day. And so I learned a lot. It was a great assignment. Fort Gordon, Fort Monmouth. And it was -- I was a history major, and the only thing I knew about microwave, it was an oven. So (laughter) I learned about microwave radio and all this kind of stuff. As a matter of fact, my technical specialty in the military was as a microwave radio officer.

Edwin M. Perry:

Is that the old RATT rig?

Max Cleland:

I don't know. It's -- but by '66, it was pretty -- more sophisticated than that.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Max Cleland:

It involved satellite communication and so forth. But I really -- I really wanted to be with the cav, and so I ultimately wound up for about eight or nine months as a platoon leader with division signal. But then when Khe Sanh happened, when the Tet Offensive happened, I realized the peak moment, the defining moment of the war was about to happen. And in my opinion, it was going to happen not at Tet, but at Khe Sanh; that unlike the French, if we could hold Khe Sanh, we would prove to the bad guys we were superior and we were going to win. However, if they took it, it would be our Dien Bien Phu, and they'd run us out. So I saw that as the defining moment, the defining battle. And so that's why I volunteered. Then I got scared to death and (laughter) realized, you know, this was a -- this was a weird business. And ultimately paid heavily for it.

Edwin M. Perry:

You had friends who counseled you not to --

Max Cleland:

Oh, yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- volunteer.

Max Cleland:

Oh, yeah. You know. That's life, you know. My mother and daddy didn't want me to go to Vietnam. The general didn't want me to go to Vietnam.

Edwin M. Perry:

You worked for an aide -- as an aide to General Rienzi --

Max Cleland:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- for a year.

Max Cleland:

Great American. Great guy. Great leader.

Edwin M. Perry:

What did you learn from him?

Max Cleland:

I guess aggressive leadership. Aggressive leadership. West Point class of '42. China Burma India Theater, three years. Ultimately became the number one signal officer in the Army.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Max Cleland:

But he was an aggressive leader. But he cared for people and he cared for the troops. And he paid attention to the troops. And he spent time with the troops.

Edwin M. Perry:

You mentioned --

Max Cleland:

That's what I learned from him.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- while you were the aide there, he was given the responsibility for ramping up the signal school --

Max Cleland:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- to get prepared for Vietnam.

Max Cleland:

To a 24-hour-a-day operation.

Edwin M. Perry:

What type of things did he have to do and did you have to do?

Max Cleland:

He had to overcome kind of a sleepy bureaucracy that was used to an eight-hour day and a five-day week, kind of a sleepy, very fine, retirement -- Army post where a lot of people retired at, you know, the Jersey shore, which was a great place to be in the summer.

Edwin M. Perry:

Great place. (laughter)

Max Cleland:

So I mean, best time of my -- our lives, but -- my life, but he instituted this aggressive leadership which caught people off-guard. And he set a tone and a pace for the whole post that was -- it was serious, but he had a sense of humor, too. He didn't take himself too seriously. But he definitely challenged and -- people to really get with the program. This was war and we were training young men to go to war. And that was serious. And ultimately, Fort Monmouth went to a 24-hour-a-day seven-day-a-week operation. And you had classes at night for young signalman, you know, going to Vietnam, so it was a -- it was a very, very aggressive, go-go-go, upbeat, we're in a war, we've got to take care of our troops kind of atmosphere.

Edwin M. Perry:

What did he expect of you on a daily basis?

Max Cleland:

That kind of --

Edwin M. Perry:

-- (inaudible) job?

Max Cleland:

Yeah. I know. That kind of mentality. And he challenged me every day to that -- to that level. He was 6'6" and I was 6'2". And I was the tallest guy in my high school class, but I looked up to him in every way. And he was a brigadier general. I was just a young second lieutenant. So when he said, "Jump," I said, "How high?" And he said "jump" a lot. And I jumped a lot. And yet I feel like I was a good complement to him. And when I -- when I -- I didn't walk down the hall; I ran. I moved. Everything was at double speed, warp speed. And everything was extra. Everything was superior. Everything was superlative. I mean that's the -- that's the standard. So we were always leaning forward in the foxhole. Always up and always aggressive -- that's why I'm saying aggressive leadership.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Max Cleland:

Even at a -- and that transformed -- that was a great service to that post and to those young men and women who came through there because it got everybody on the edge of their seat, serious about training young people to go to war.

Edwin M. Perry:

Obviously you think's he was a superb leader. Did the --

Max Cleland:

Absolutely.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- other leaders that you met over the next 18 months meet what you visioned this --

Max Cleland:

It was tough to meet that standard. I have to agree. Only maybe one or two that I came across later ever met that standard because General Rienzi was unique. He was unique at West Point. He was unique in the Army. Still is.

Edwin M. Perry:

He discouraged you as --

Max Cleland:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- when he interviewed you for the EA to go to Vietnam, and then in 1967 you came back and said, "Boss, I want to go back."

Max Cleland:

Yeah. Yes. We had -- we had an agreement. I wanted to go to the 1st Air Cavalry Division, again for the reasons I mentioned. And in '66 when I agreed to be his aide, I said, "But a year from now, you know, I'd like to go to Vietnam." So a year later, I asked him. And he gave me -- gave me permission, and he got me with the 1st Cav.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. So he helped you get the assignment over there?

Max Cleland:

Yes.

Edwin M. Perry:

I think it was 31 May, 1967, you board the aircraft to fly over there.

Max Cleland:

Yeah. And I -- aggressive leadership. I was ready to get on that plane at Travis Air Force Base. Head west, you know. Go west, young man. Seeking my daring adventure in life.

Edwin M. Perry:

Had you had any special training before you went over there? Or did they just say, "Get on the plane and go fight"?

Max Cleland:

I think special training was taking my first malaria pill. (laughter) That was about it.

Edwin M. Perry:

What about the troops that went over there?

Max Cleland:

I don't think we knew what we were getting into.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Max Cleland:

I can remember early on in '67, one of the young radiomen I had in my unit, he had come out of Napa Valley. I mean, California in 1966, '67 was pretty -- you know, hang loose, you know, qué pasa kind of place. So here's a kid out of Napa Valley, out of the San Francisco area, and he said that he was going to a golf course. That was what they called the main line, the flight line for the helicopters at An Khe in the jungle. So he was wondering whether he should take his golf clubs. I mean, looking back, it was a laugher, but that just showed you that, you know, just a young kid draftee, you're going to be a signalman. You're going to Vietnam. The landing strip is called a golf course. You know. And that's what the pilots called it. Obviously it wasn't a -- the furthest thing from a golf course. But you know, he just -- he didn't know. He wondered whether he should take his golf clubs. So -- just show the naiveté. That's just a story that shows the naiveté about not only me, but a lot of young men that wound up in Vietnam to, in many ways, lose our innocence and especially those of us who went to the Tet Offensive and especially the siege at Khe Sanh. In so many ways, that was total war, total war like only few Americans had ever experienced. Maybe total war like Korea in its maximum period when the Chinese came across the Yalu. Total war, you know, at Normandy or a Battle of the Bulge or islands at -- Solomon Islands in the Pacific and whatever. The kind of mass casualties, death, destruction, massive use of firepower, armaments, of a scale you cannot believe, you know. And once you go through that, you realize Sherman was right. War is hell.

Edwin M. Perry:

You arrive in Saigon. You talk about in a sense, the innocence as you get off the airplane, but then you talked in your book about the staring of the folks who were waiting to get on that airplane.

Max Cleland:

You know, Patton has a great line for this. Those of us who went -- new troops anyway. Just new troops.

Edwin M. Perry:

Right.

Max Cleland:

You can just see it. Whatever battle. Vietnam, World War II, Korea. Replacement troops have what Patton used to refer to as the valor of ignorance. The valor of ignorance. And the hardened experienced troops have that hollowed-out look in their eyes, what became known as the 10,000-foot stare in a 10-foot room. They're the ones, been there, done that, gotten a few holes in their T-shirt. And that's the difference between the rookie, the new guy, the green guy -- officer or enlisted -- and the veteran, the combat soldier. They know -- they -- in Stephen Crane's great line, which I quote in the book, out of the -- The Red Badge of Courage, when he interviewed soldiers after the Battle of Chancellorsville, upon which The Red Badge of Courage is based; that "I have been to face the Great Death and found it was only the Great Death." You know, your combat veteran has been -- he's seen the elephant. He's been to face the Great Death. And those of us who come back from that experience are different. (Break in video.)

Edwin M. Perry:

Good afternoon. It's 20 November, 2002. We're back with Senator Cleland to continue his interview as part of the Veterans History Project. Sir, you just mentioned that your family legacy goes back even further than what we discussed last time.

Max Cleland:

Right. Initially -- I talked to my uncle, oh, a number of years ago. I said, "Tell me a little bit about our family history." See, he said, "Well, I traced it back to a -- to a uncle who stole a horse in South Carolina, became a horse thief, and I left it alone after that." But (laughter) actually the real story is that on my father's side, I'm the fourth generation to be willing to serve our country in the military. My grandfather served in the 64th Georgia Volunteers as Private Plunkett, believe it or not. Private young Plunkett. And he served in -- under Robert E. Lee in the defense of Richmond, outside of Richmond, and was wounded in the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg, July 13, 1864. And when I became Secretary of State in Georgia, I went to Richmond and located the battle flag of the -- of the 64th Georgia Volunteers. And it's now on display, shot full of holes, in the Georgia capitol. My grandfather -- great-grandfather was wounded, became a single-arm amputee. The rounds in those days were so large, the caliber of the rounds were so large, they could tear off an arm --

Edwin M. Perry:

Yes.

Max Cleland:

-- or just shred a bone. And so -- one of the great facts that I learned out of the tremendous documentary -- is it by Ken -- by Ken Burns on the Civil War?

Edwin M. Perry:

Yeah.

Max Cleland:

Was that after -- one of the facts that stood out in my mind was that after the Civil War, one fifth of the state of Mississippi's budget went to artificial limbs.

Edwin M. Perry:

I never knew that.

Max Cleland:

Just think about that. So my father was one of -- my grandfather, great- grandfather was one of those who became a single-arm amputee on the right side, went to the Confed -- big, huge Confederate hospital in Richmond and then was discharged between Lithonia, Georgia and Conyers, Georgia, which is where my father grew up. I just came across recently the draft registration for my grandfather on my father's side who registered for the draft in 1918 and then the war was over. Then my father served at Pearl Harbor in the United States Navy as an enlisted man after the attack at Pearl Harbor. So I'm the fourth generation to be willing to serve our country in combat and the second one to be wounded. And so military service in my family actually goes back a long way.

Edwin M. Perry:

Well, sir, when we talked last time, we talked a little bit about your motivation to enter the military, your service at Fort Dix with General --

Max Cleland:

Fort Monmouth.

Edwin M. Perry:

Fort Monmouth with General Rienzi.

Max Cleland:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

And then we got you on the airplane and you were landing in Vietnam. That's when we ended the last interview.

Max Cleland:

And as the movie Platoon shows it, the tension (snap of fingers) started immediately. The moment the door opened, the heat comes in. The tension immediately begins, and you never shake that tension as long as you're in-country.

Edwin M. Perry:

As you got off the airplane, I think you may have mentioned the fact that there were soldiers who were getting ready to fly home.

Max Cleland:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. All the battle-hardened soldiers over here were looking at us. We had what Patton had called in World War II the valor of ignorance. And they had the -- the fear of combat.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did they say anything to the newbies?

Max Cleland:

Oh, sly -- snide remarks. But everybody, after a number of months in Vietnam, always looked forward to their freedom bird, the plane that would take them out. And I never thought that my freedom bird would be a hospital ship.

Edwin M. Perry:

What was your initial impressions as you got off that airplane? Where did you land?

Max Cleland:

Hot, sticky -- landed outside of Saigon in Long Binh. That was a huge, huge operation. I mean, anyways, it looked -- it looked a lot like Stateside operations. You just couldn't believe that such a massive American buildup could occur 13,000 miles away. And I just thought about the incredible amount of money and time and energy and talent it took to put all that together. And it was a big replacement depo, and that's where they did -- they made the assignments to where you went in-country. And I had orders for the 1st Air Cavalry Division. That's where I wanted to go. That's what I volunteered for. And General Rienzi had helped me get that assignment because that's the unit I wanted to go with, the great 1st Air Cavalry Division out of -- out of Viet -- out of Columbus, Georgia, which I had seen train at Fort Benning --

Edwin M. Perry:

Right.

Max Cleland:

-- when I was in summer camp there. And of course now we know that there's a great movie based on the book We Were Soldiers Once... and Young about the Battle of la Drang Valley in '65 with now General Moore writing the story with Joe Galloway, then the press person on the scene. And Mel Gibson plays the title role, and I saw them filming it at Columbus. And --

Edwin M. Perry:

Had you actually gone back to airborne school or (inaudible) Fort Benning --

Max Cleland:

(inaudible) in September(?) '63 --

Edwin M. Perry:

-- as they were preparing --

Max Cleland:

-- 11th Air Assault Test Division.

Edwin M. Perry:

Right.

Max Cleland:

And they were training out themselves on using helicopters for transportation, helicopters for gunships, helicopters for -- all the terminology would later become -- would become de rigueur and standard operational procedure in Vietnam. Combat assault, guns and slicks. You know, slicks had no guns. Gunships had guns. Then aerial rocket artillery, which meant -- just meant the gunship. Put some -- put some rockets on and fire those suckers. I mean, they were all tested out at Benning in the summer of '63. And I saw that in action, and I was just enthralled with the cav. And I figured that was the way to -- if you go to war, that's the way to fight it, which is one reason I wanted to go with the cav. And it was an elite unit, and that was the best operation there. And it was an incredibly courageous operation, incredibly courageous outfit. And I wanted to be with the best of the best.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Max Cleland:

And that's why I volunteered for it.

Edwin M. Perry:

You were part of the second wave of replacements. They had a -- they showed up in '65. There was a big replacement in '66, and you were part of that group that came in in --

Max Cleland:

Yeah. And how we did replacements in Vietnam later came to bite us big time. Because we went over as individuals, came back as individuals. And the entire burden of the war in effect fell upon you afterward as you came back -- in my case, wounded and in the case of every Vietnam veteran, which makes us a band of brothers of our own --

Edwin M. Perry:

Yes.

Max Cleland:

-- and unique in many ways to the Vietnam era and the Vietnam experience, that we came back alone and had to deal with the experience of combat alone. We didn't have the solidarity of a unit, a company or the -- the National Guard unit from my little hometown going over as one with your basketball buddies and everything. It was -- it was an estrangement to go there and an estrangement to come home.

Edwin M. Perry:

It wasn't -- I've done a lot with the World War II lately, and they went on by ship as a unit to Europe. They demobilized. They left by ship. And they also had time to decompress (inaudible crosstalk) --

Max Cleland:

-- decompression time. And -- and there was no decompression time for Vietnam veterans, and they came home and -- in almost a Kott or Kierkegaard existential moment, they had to deal with all the stuff with which they had dealt with in Vietnam and deal with it personally. And it was just too much. It was just too much for any single individual to handle. So 20 or 30 percent of our Vietnam era veterans wound up with some kind of psychological challenge. Many of us, including myself, wound up in counseling afterward. And one of the things I guess I'm proudest of, when I was head of the Veterans Administration, I was able to work with President Carter and Senator Cranston, who was head of the Veterans Committee at the time in the Senate, to put together the -- what is now called the Vet Center Program, a psychological readjustment counseling program to deal with the aftermath of war. Now we know it doesn't have to be just combat. It can be Bosnia. It can be Haiti. It can be Afghanistan.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Max Cleland:

It can be Desert Storm. It can be Saudi Arabia. I mean, military changes you.

Edwin M. Perry:

Yes.

Max Cleland:

And you -- when you come back, you need support to deal with those changes in your life.

Edwin M. Perry:

You enter the airport. How did you wind up getting up to the 1st Cav?

Max Cleland:

By C-130. Up -- up north to the central highlands, and the central highlands was threatened in those days. And of course I spent about six or seven months there with the cav in the central highlands. Basically we were operating out of An Khe, a young platoon leader with a single unit supporting the logistical effort of the cav. And --

Edwin M. Perry:

What was -- what was in your unit? How many soldiers? What type of equipment? Do you remember?

Max Cleland:

I had -- my little platoon, I had about 50 young tigers and about two to three million dollars worth of communication gear. It was high tech stuff at the time.

Edwin M. Perry:

Was it radios or was it --

Max Cleland:

Radios. (inaudible crosstalk)

Edwin M. Perry:

RATT rigs?

Max Cleland:

Well, it was -- it was radio, teletype, too. We took -- I guess the most sophisticated stuff we had that we dealt with at a platoon level to support the brigades was -- anything with a cab was immobile so you -- we put on a quarter-ton truck --

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Max Cleland:

-- a -- a radio that had about 2,000 watts of power, supercharged, and a 15-foot whip antenna and took a AM signal and kicked that sucker halfway around the world.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Max Cleland:

Now, that's the good news. The bad news is the Soviets had the Russian trawler out there in the Gulf of Tonkin picking up all that stuff, so if you broadcast in the clear, you were dead meat. And any Vietnamese, North or South, good guy or bad guy, could have a little AM radio and pick up your transmission as well. So as the precursor of the Tet Offensive, in January, we began hearing North Vietnamese and VC enter our radio net saying, "Go to hell, GI. Go to hell, GI," you know.

Edwin M. Perry:

You mean on the AM?

Max Cleland:

Yeah. They just came into our radio net and started talking to us, saying, "Go to hell."

Edwin M. Perry:

How much of your -- your communication was in the clear and how much was over secure --

Max Cleland:

Well, the radio teletype was encrypted and coded and sent secure.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Max Cleland:

At the -- down at the com -- at the battalion and company -- company level, which I later went to with a -- with Battalion [2nd to 12th?], going into Khe Sanh, we -- as their signal officer, I had the capability to give to the company commanders and the battalion commander a small little -- we would call it now "disk," although it wasn't a disk. It was more like that. Put it into the FM radio and provided secure voice over FM on the battlefield.

Edwin M. Perry:

Right.

Max Cleland:

And so that was -- that was very high tech at the time for a company commander to have secure voice in the middle of combat to his battalion commander, secure voice on the battlefield.

Edwin M. Perry:

Otherwise, he was forced to go into that code --

Max Cleland:

Otherwise, he was forced to, you know, go AM and do all the other stuff. So we -- that was my job. And for about eight months, in many ways, the war was manageable, but the North Vietnamese decided to counterattack and put it all on the line. And that was the -- known as the Tet Offensive, began 1 February, 1968. I was in -- I was on -- the 1st Cav had been moved up as a blocking force outside of Hue.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Max Cleland:

Apparently General Westmoreland used the cav as a blocking force to secure the Marines at Da -- at not only the Da Nang but at Hue. And we were astride Highway 1 when three North Vietnamese divisions came down. And that's where the 1st Air Cavalry Division and the Marines and other units got shredded. And we lost a lot of people.

Edwin M. Perry:

I had an opportunity to view your video diary yesterday. And you talk in December and January that you started getting suspicion that something was not right, that there was an increase of activity. Did you --

Max Cleland:

Oh, yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you sense that as a -- at your level?

Max Cleland:

Well, I sensed -- you know, looking back, I mean --

Edwin M. Perry:

It is looking back.

Max Cleland:

Here's a young first lieutenant out there in the weeds. I mean, you know -- but in many ways, young officers, young sergeants, young corporals, picked up what was going on in reality much better than a lot of people at higher headquarters, particularly in Saigon. And something was up. We just didn't know what and when. But we certainly didn't know the scope of the attack, which was all out. And you can't take away from the enemy their ability to die. And so that's what the North Vietnamese had and their willingness to die. And so that's what they did, by the tens and twenties of thousands. But it gave such an emotional shock to this country and to our forces in Vietnam. We lost 15,000 men that year in '68, four times more than the French lost at Dien Bien Phu in '51 or '52. So that was the turning point of the war. But I sensed the climactic moment of the war was coming, and I wanted to be part of it. And it all began to center around Khe Sanh.

Edwin M. Perry:

In fact, you even said that in your video diary, that you had a sense that we were coming to that decisive point.

Max Cleland:

This was it. This was the moment. If we held Khe Sanh, we won the war. If we lost Khe Sanh, it would be an American Dien Bien Phu. We would lose the war.

Edwin M. Perry:

You even talked about going up Highway 1 where the --

Max Cleland:

Where the French had gone up 14 years before in May of '51 or '52 -- '52, I guess -- and -- and seeing the old French bunkers along the way. Have a sense of following along in the footsteps of the French, which is exactly the way we were perceived by the Vietnamese, which is why we were never able to win politically, why we were never able or always on thin political ice. We were always perceived as the outsider.

Edwin M. Perry:

Now -- now, as you talked about that, were you more historically aware of some of the things that had happened to the French than, say, some of your peers?

Max Cleland:

I feel like I was, although I understand that in Saigon, they were taking Bernard Fall's book, Hell In a Very Small Place, and studying it in depth, equating Khe Sanh with Dien Bien Phu. And in the White House situation room, they had Khe Sanh on a big map. They all were focused on Khe Sanh, too. And so from the President on down -- there's a famous line by LBJ, President Johnson. He got the chairman and the joint chief of staff together, and he says in his Texas jargon and diction, "I don't want no damn Dien Bien Phu." So -- so the word went out we're going to hold Khe Sanh at all costs. When in reality, the two-star commander of the 1st Air Cavalry Division told the three-star Marine general in I Corps in Da Nang, it's time for a strategic withdrawal. This is -- this is, in effect, not what we ought to do. And General Cushman, the three-star Marine general, says it's out -- it's out of the question. In effect, the decision has already been made. So here we go on this big massive relief mission, which I volunteered for and was scared out of my mind to do --

Edwin M. Perry:

Why in February -- February of '68?

Max Cleland:

That was -- actually in March '68 after Tet --

Edwin M. Perry:

But you volunteered?

Max Cleland:

Yeah, I know. I've done crazier things, but I can't remember what was more crazy than that.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Max Cleland:

I don't know. There's something about combat that -- the moth to the flame kind of thing. Especially let's get this sucker over with.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Max Cleland:

Let's do it. Because Vietnam, for American troops, had a big frustration level to it. You'd go somewhere, and then you'd fall back. Then you'd go somewhere else, and then you'd fall back. Then you'd go somewhere else, and fall -- you never had a sense of winning or never -- Walter Lippmann had a great line in those days. And he opposed the war, of course. But he wrote, he said, "The battles we fight, we win. But the battles we fight can't win the war." So in many ways, American troops were hung out on that policy. We won the battles we fought, but the battles we fought couldn't, quote, "win the war." And -- just because we never had a strategic objective to win. And that's one of the things that -- that was found by Clark Clifford when he came in, replacing McNamara. There was no plan to win. So we ended up with this war of attrition against experts in wars of attrition. And therefore, we ultimately lost. And so guys like me, who hung it out and bet the farm on making it happen and winning, ultimately looked back with a great sense of betrayal, a great sense of -- of disgust and distrust about those who led us there, who we followed there, and then a great sense of anger that we were, you know, the ones to go and all this kind of stuff. You work through all of that. And then you finally bottom out and say, "Well, what the hell? You know, I'm still here, and I've got to make the best of it."

Edwin M. Perry:

So when you began Operation Pegasus in April of '68 --

Max Cleland:

Yeah. And Pegasus is the legendary flying horse.

Edwin M. Perry:

Right.

Max Cleland:

Hello. 1st Air Cavalry Division. It had a Marine component of going along Highway 9, I think it was, from Dong Ha out to Khe Sanh, but all those bridges had been cut. I think there were 26 different bridges that had been blown up by the North Vietnamese. But General Jones -- now General Jones, coming out of the Marine Corps, was a young lieutenant at the time, a young captain. Young Marine officer. He was plowing through at that level. General Jumper, who's now the chief of staff of the Air Force, he was flying rescue missions, C-130s into Khe Sanh, getting bombed and mortared. And here, here's ol' Captain Cleland by that time, because I was promoted on the day of the Tet Offensive, and my battalion commander couldn't even get to me for 26 days to pin the two bars on me. So it was a hellacious time. All hell broke loose literally. And so I thought by volunteering, getting there, being part of this and winning this sucker, we could win the war, and it would be over. This nutso stuff would be over. The lost lives, the craziness, the lack of desire or the lack of goal setting to accomplish a strategic objective. All that would be over. And so that's what I saw in the battle for Khe Sanh. And I hung it all out, and the country hung it all out. And then we broke the siege. I got wounded the day the siege was actually broken, April 8, '68. And of course, after the Khe Sanh base was taken, a week later, they plowed it under and evacuated it. Now how does that make you feel?

Edwin M. Perry:

I understand. There are two issues there that I'd like to explore. First, you were wounded right as the siege was ending.

Max Cleland:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

And wounded in a way that a soldier doesn't like to get wounded.

Max Cleland:

Right.

Edwin M. Perry:

There's sort of --

Max Cleland:

By accident.

Edwin M. Perry:

By accident. There's a pecking order of wounding. I mean, you want to -- there's wounded charging a machine gun nest --

Max Cleland:

Yeah. The old -- is it the Spartan charge by the Spartan women that "Come home with your shield or on it"? The old --

Edwin M. Perry:

Did that make your recovery more difficult, knowing how you were wounded?

Max Cleland:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I came home feeling very guilty, very embarrassed. You know, if I'm such a great wonderful military leader, why did I get wounded? Why did I get wounded this way? A million questions. You replay the tape in your mind. And it was only -- with no answer. Same ending. And so it was only well over 30-some-odd years, 35 years later, that one of the men on the -- that first got to me, David Lloyd, called me after seeing a documentary.

Edwin M. Perry:

I think you were on -- was it Larry King?

Max Cleland:

No. Larry King was later.

Edwin M. Perry:

Oh, okay.

Max Cleland:

It was The History Channel.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Max Cleland:

About combat medics. And I told my story. And he said, "It wasn't your grenade." And I said, "How do you know?" He said, "Because I was the first to you."

Edwin M. Perry:

Did that help you?

Max Cleland:

Yeah. It sent me reeling for a while. I mean, for days, I didn't sleep all that well because -- you arrange the furniture of your mind, of your experience -- of your experience in your mind, and you get the furniture arranged. And for 35 years, the furniture is just like that. And there's a certain security about that, you know. The sofa's here. The table's here. All of a sudden, somebody comes in, rearranges the furniture of your whole experience in a way that you never -- you don't recognize the furniture. And so it took a while to adjust to the new reality. And the reality was it wasn't my grenade. And the reality was it was the grenade of a young guy behind me who'd been in-country a day or two and had been convinced by either himself or somebody else that he should lengthen the pins on the grenades he was carrying, you know, to make them easier to pull out in combat, but that made him a walking time bomb. And so when David Lloyd got to me and began to patch up my wounds, then the Navy medic. Then he was sent to the guy who was filled with shrapnel and whatever, tried to patch him up, but he still had two grenades on him. And David Lloyd dismantled those grenades. So I call it a freak accident of war, but that's war.

Edwin M. Perry:

That is war.

Max Cleland:

I could have gotten killed the night of the 4th of April when we had 20 or 30 hundred -- 122-millimeter rockets, Russian-made rockets --

Edwin M. Perry:

In the -- in the dugout, in the crater?

Max Cleland:

Yeah. In the crater, man. Just -- just a little upward click on the sight of a North Vietnamese gunner, and I'd have been -- I'd have got -- been one of the four on the hill that was killed that night. I'd have been No. 5. That had been a direct hit on my crater.

Edwin M. Perry:

What do you recall of your evacuation? Or has it all been reconstructed by others?

Max Cleland:

No. I recall every bit of it because I was awake to it. I mean, I -- I fought going out of consciousness because I thought I would never wake up. But I mean, that was just a personal fight. I mean, really it was the people around me that literally saved my life. David Lloyd first and then the Navy medic. Then a guy named Charlie Walden, who was a Marine. They tended my wounds, cut off my uniform, tried to make a tourniquet. My right arm was blown off immediately, right leg immediately, left leg amputated within the hour. They got one of the medic -- medevac. IVs. And one of the things I remember, I got to the division aid station, which was a bunker, and I looked up, since the shrapnel had severed windpipe. I looked up to the medic, and I said, "Do you think I'm going to make it?" He said, "You just might." You know, like, okay. We got a coin here, Cleland. This is your life. Heads, you live. Tails, you die. Flip of the coin.

Edwin M. Perry:

But in a sense, because it was Vietnam and not World War -- World War II, the --

Max Cleland:

Because it was Vietnam, they had chopper medevac. And it was a clear day, in the middle of the day, to the division aid station. And within the hour, I was in the air medevaced about -- what? -- 40 miles away maybe to Dong Ha to a -- to a division -- a forward aid station, field hospital. 38th Medical-Surgical, I think. And a team of five doctors saved my life. The fascinating thing about that is that one of -- I heard from one of those doctors, about four orthopedists and one -- I don't know. A guy measures your blood pressure and whatever. Anesthesiologist. Yes. And he said I owe my life to the anesthesiologist because every time my blood pressure would go down, my breathing would stop, he would stop the operation, build up the blood pressure, and they could start again. Then the anesthesiologist would stop it and build it up again. Dah, dah, dah. So I went through like 46 pints of blood in five hours. And they saved my life. But the surgeon who later wrote me, who was working at the VA Hospital when I was head of the VA, said he never -- never dared to come see me because he couldn't -- he couldn't face me. So then there I am again, alone. To face myself, right.

Edwin M. Perry:

Yeah.

Max Cleland:

So many Vietnam veterans went through this kind of experience.

Edwin M. Perry:

The other -- then you're shipped back. You wind up at Walter Reed.

Max Cleland:

Yeah. And the shipping back was a hellacious thing because I was moved very quickly from the field hospital to -- one night in Da Nang. And I wanted to stay in the Navy hospital because I -- in Da Nang because I knew I was going to get better treatment there. They said, "No. You're an Army guy." So they sent me down to someplace called Tuy Hoa, which was a hellhole northeast of Saigon. And I -- there, I almost -- I was there for seven days. I almost died.

Edwin M. Perry:

I think --

Max Cleland:

Or they almost killed me.

Edwin M. Perry:

In your book, that's very --

Max Cleland:

Unbelievable. I was lucky to survive that place.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Max Cleland:

And then -- then they -- one night in an Air Force hospital in Cam Ranh Bay, then the C-130 to Japan near Yokohama. The 106 General Hospital, which is no longer there. I went back to that ground about two years ago. And it's now a park. And I had a little sense of serenity there about that place because I had come back to life there. And I'm glad that it's a park. It had a certain serenity to it. Hopefully that's a precursor of history in the 21st century there. And less war and more serenity. And then medevaced after seven days C-141. One stop in Anchorage, Alaska to Walter Reed to begin a whole life here.

Edwin M. Perry:

But you only spent about six months at Walter Reed, and then they discharged you?

Max Cleland:

About eight months, yeah. Eight months at Walter Reed. I was looked upon as a long-term case. I did not know whether I was mental or physical. (laughter) But I was a long-term case, all right.

Edwin M. Perry:

But from what I could see, you were rather heroic in your approach to trying to get back to --

Max Cleland:

Well, I tried. I mean --

Edwin M. Perry:

Your mobility.

Max Cleland:

-- you've had everything taken away from you, you're going to fight like hell to get it back. And so, you know, the rehab thing was as much another war, a war with ultimately Walter Reed, which was really wonderful for me initially, the snakepit, the camaraderie of the guys. And then the devastation at being shipped out to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Washington. I wanted to stay in Washington. I didn't want to go home because I figured if I ever went home halfway, I'd never, never make anything. I'd never make it. So I wanted to go home in as good of shape as I would ever be.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Max Cleland:

And so I battled then the VA for another year, trying to get artificial limbs, trying to learn -- doing my PT every day, every day, every day. Finally got a decent set of limbs and went home in December of '69. And I can remember sitting there in my mother and daddy's living room and saying, "Well, no job. No future. No girlfriend. No car. No apartment. No money. This is a great time to run for the state senate."

Edwin M. Perry:

You had an opportunity to testify before the U.S. Senate --

Max Cleland:

Yeah. December of '69. One final parting shot, which in many ways opened the door --

Edwin M. Perry:

I read the entire testimony. It's still -- you can still find it.

Max Cleland:

Oh.

Edwin M. Perry:

I was up at the Army War College, and I found a Congressional register, and your entire testimony was still published there.

Max Cleland:

Well, I wrote it myself, but it was strictly out of the gut of feeling. And back in those days, the term "secondary explosions" was well-known to me and to the -- to people who had served because in Vietnam, when an Air Force strike or a Navy strike came in, you'd hit a bunker, whatever, and then there were a series of secondary explosions. And so that's -- that's the way I described coming home. Later there was a movie called Coming Home --

Edwin M. Perry:

Right.

Max Cleland:

-- 1977. But coming home as a series of secondary explosions down through the years where the Vietnam veteran is left alone with his pain and his agony, to try to explain it by himself. That was one reason why we needed the support of psychological counseling in the Veterans Administration, which had never been done before unless you're psycho.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Max Cleland:

This was not psycho. This was saying everybody that had been traumatized has these kind of things go on years later, now called post-traumatic stress disorder. That wasn't even a diagnosis until I went to the Veterans Administration and said to the VA and in 1978, it became an official diagnosis of the Veterans Administration. PTSD, now well-known.

Edwin M. Perry:

Yes.

Max Cleland:

Now well-known to have affected Korean veterans, World War II veterans and other victims of trauma, but Vietnam veterans were looked upon basically as crybabies back when I came back.

Edwin M. Perry:

If you had to look at what your legacy -- the legacy of your experience in the military and then what you've done with that experience, what would you see that legacy as being? Or you hope it's still not written?

Max Cleland:

Well (laughter), maybe -- maybe the best thing I did was translate my pain into somebody else's gain in terms of, one, being head of the VA, courtesy of President Carter, and carrying the experience, the painful experience of Vietnam, into that role as head of the VA, and then working with President Carter and Senator Cranston from California, who was chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee in those days, to get through the Congress and sign into law the Psychological Readjustment Counseling Act, creating the Vet Center Program, which has saved, I well know, numerous lives. And I -- matter of fact, one of the three guys on the battlefield that saved my life, Charlie Walden, later wound up in a vet center himself, which he attributes to saving his life. And we just got together for the first time in Atlanta. We saw each for the first time since April 8, 1968, and hugged each other and so forth. I gave him credit for saving my life, and he gave me credit for saving his life. I mean, you know, so in many ways, the circle came through. So the best thing I guess I ever did was -- and I didn't do it voluntarily.

Edwin M. Perry:

Yeah.

Max Cleland:

I mean, the good Lord works out things. Translate my pain into someone else's gain, so that what I've gone through, they can either use as an experience if somebody can't deal with it or motivation to go ahead and deal with whatever it is they've got to deal with and overcome in their lives as well. President Roosevelt said that the purpose of politics is to generate hope. I just said on the floor of the Senate last night as I gave my valedictory speech that the purpose of my life is to generate hope.

Edwin M. Perry:

I think you've done that.

Max Cleland:

Maybe that's the best thing any of us can do.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. Is there anything else you'd like to add, sir? I know you have to get going.

Max Cleland:

That's it.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. Thank you very much.

Max Cleland:

Thank you.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. (Conclusion of interview.)

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us