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Max Cleland’s Depression – Is Bush’s Fault?

From the Atlanta affiliate WSBTV.com:

Cleland Seeks Treatment For Depression

August 28, 2006

WASHINGTON — As head of the Veteran’s Administration under President Jimmy Carter, Vietnam veteran Max Cleland was involved in setting up VA Vet centers to help soldiers returning from war get counseling and readjust to life back home.

Now Cleland has revealed that he’s suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and getting help from those same counseling programs he helped create.

Cleland, who lost three limbs in the war, said he didn’t get much help for his own psychological wounds when he returned from battle.

The former U.S. Senator from Georgia described his symptoms to Channel 2 Action News reporter Alison Burns.

He said he feels depressed, has developed a sense of hyper-vigilance about his security and has difficulty sleeping.

He believes the Iraq war has, in part, triggered his condition.

"I realize my symptoms are avoidance, not wanting to connect with anything dealing with the [Iraq] war, tremendous sadness over the casualties that are taken, a real identification with that…..I’ve tried to disconnect and disassociate from the media. I don’t watch it as much. I’m not engrossed in it like I was," he said…

Not to denigrate his service or his wounds from the accidentally dropped grenade, but Max Cleland was a desk jockey for a general for most of his time in Vietnam.

Cleland was only at the front for eight days.

From the US Army’s Fort Gordon site:

Sen. Joseph Maxwell Cleland

Sen. Max Cleland, U.S. senator from Georgia, served in the Army from 1965 to 1968 and as a Signal Corps officer from Oct. 18, 1967 to Dec. 23, 1968 in Vietnam, where he was severely wounded in a grenade explosion. Sen. Cleland was an aide to then-BG Tom Rienzi at Fort Monmouth, N.J., when he volunteered for duty with 1st Air Cavalry Division in Vietnam.

First assigned to 1st Cavalry’s Signal battalion, CPT Cleland then volunteered as communications officer for 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry, which had been chosen for Operation Pegasus – the relief of Khe Sanh – in April 1968.

CPT Cleland was on a mountaintop with his Signal team to set up a radio relay when he lost his legs and right arm to a grenade explosion. For Khe Sanh he received the Bronze Star for meritorious service and Silver Star for gallantry in action.

From Khe San Chronology 1962-1972:

Apr 1 [1968] – Operation PEGASUS begins; 2/1 and 2/3 (1st Marines) attack west from Ca Lu along Route 9. Elements of 3d Bde, 1st ACD conduct helo assaults into LZ Mike and Cates. Joint engineer task force begins repair of Route 9 from Ca Lu to Khe Sanh.

Apr 3 – 2d Bde, 1st ACD assaults LZs Tom and Wharton.

Apr 4 – 1/5 CavSqd moves northwest from LZ Wharton and attacks enemy units near old French fort; 1st Battalion, 9th Marines moves southeast from rock quarry and assaults Hill 471.

Apr 5 – 1/9 repulses enemy counterattack on Hill 471 and kills 122 North Vietnamese. 1st Bde, 1st ACD departs Ca Lu and assaults LZ Snapper.

Apr 6 – One company of 3d ARVN Airborne Task Force airlifted to KSCB for the initial link up with defenders. Elements of 2d Bde, 1st ACD relieve 1st Battalion, 9th Marines on Hill 471; 1/9 commences sweep to northwest toward Hill 689.

1st Bde, 1st ACD helilifted north of KSCB. 2/26 and 3/26 push north of combat base; Company G, 2/26 engages enemy force and kills 48 NVA.

Apr 8 – 2/7 CavSqd links up with 26th Marines and conducts official relief of combat base. 1/26 attacks to the west. 3d ARVN Airborne Task Force air assaults into LZ Snake west of Khe Sanh and kills 78 North Vietnamese.

From a post defending Cleland’s war record at Doxagora:

Let’s talk Ann Coulter and heroism

While an aide [to a general] at Forth Monmouth, NJ, Cleland volunteered for a combat tour with the 1st Air Cavalry Division. Once in-theatre, then-Captain Cleland volunteered for a post as communications officer with 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry in April, 1968. This is meaningful because Cleland knowingly volunteered for Operation PEGASUS.

Some context: At 5:30 AM on January 21st, an NVA artillery barrage hammered away at the forward base of Khe Sanh in what would prove to be a grim foreshadowing of the Tet Offensive, nine days away. By February, enemy fire made it impossible to supply Khe Sanh by C-130, and the military was forced to use paradrops and helicopters in concert with sustained attacks against NVA anti-air emplacements. Outside Khe Sanh, 20,000 NVA soldiers prepared for assault, testing Marine lines with hundreds of men at a time.

Operation PEGASUS was an air assault operation designed to break the back of the NVA at Khe Sanh. 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry was one of the first two forces into the area, landing on April 1st at LZ WHARTON, just south of a ruined French fort (used by the NVA as the main stronghold for their attacks on the Marines) and the road leading north to Khe Sanh. 2/12 Cav and 1/5 Cav secured WHARTON, which would serve as the staging area for the assault on the fort.

On April 4, two days before the 2/5 Cav attacked the fort from LZ WHARTON, Cleland won his Silver Star. Cleland was at the battalion command post at WHARTON when NVA forces began a rocket and mortar barrage in an attempt to dislodge the Americans from their position. According to Cleland’s Silver Star Order:

Capt. Cleland, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. He then assisted in moving the injured personnel to covered positions. Continuing to expose himself, Capt. Cleland organized his men into a work party to repair the battalion communications equipment which had been damaged by enemy fire. His gallant action is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

Three days later, the Old French Fort fell. On April 8, American forces set up within the defenses of Khe Sanh. 2/7 Cav moved from LZ THOR (east of WHARTON) and cleared a road to Khe Sanh, allowing American forces to link up with the Marines in the base.

Cleland was ordered to set up a radio relay on a nearby mountain. He and his signals team were airlifted to the site. While disembarking from the helicopter, Cleland saw a grenade that he thought had fallen from his webbing. Cleland tells what happened:

On April 8, 1968, I volunteered for one last mission. The helicopter moved in low. The troops jumped out with M16 rifles in hand as we crouched low to the ground to avoid the helicopter blades. Then I saw the grenade. It was where the chopper had lifted off. It must be mine, I thought. Grenades had fallen off my web gear before. Shifting the M16 to my left hand and holding it behind me, I bent down to pick up the grenade.

A blinding explosion threw me backwards.

The grenade turned out to belong to an inexperienced soldier who had incorrectly set the pin for a hair-trigger detonation.

Seven days later, Operation PEGASUS was ended as the NVA was forced out of the area. From the beginning of the siege to the end of PEGASUS, 730 Americans were killed in action, 2,642 were wounded, and 7 were officially classified as missing in action. A few months later, Khe Sanh was officially abandoned.

Although Cleland’s injury occurred in a combat zone, during general combat operations, Cleland was not eligible for a Purple Heart, as his injury did not occur while in direct combat with the enemy. ("Friendly fire" injuries qualify for the Purple Heart only if the fire was directed at an enemy.)

In fact, Cleland’s injuries were sustained when he got out of a helicopter to go for a beer miles, miles from the front.

From the Boston Globe:

Tragedy transformed

By Jill Zuckman, Globe Staff

Finally, the battle at Khe Sanh was over. Cleland, 25 years old, and two members of his team were now ordered to set up a radio relay station at the division assembly area, 15 miles away. The three gathered antennas, radios, and a generator and made the 15-minute helicopter trip east. After unloading the equipment, Cleland climbed back into the helicopter for the ride back. But at the last minute, he decided to stay and have a beer with some friends. As the helicopter was lifting off, he shouted to the pilot that he was staying behind and jumped several feet to the ground.

Cleland hunched over to avoid the whirring blades and ran. Turning to face the helicopter, he caught sight of a grenade on the ground where the chopper had perched. It must be mine, he thought, moving toward it. He reached for it with his right arm just as it exploded, slamming him back and irreparably altering his plans for a bright, shining future." …

(Note that the Ft. Gordon site also has it wrong. As does Wikipedia, which disingenuously describes the event as occurring during "a routine training exercise.")

This is not to say you can’t be traumatized from a short period of combat, or by being grievously wounded.

But Cleland’s depression isn’t your typical PTSD. And his depression is probably brought on by his physical state and his chronic alcoholism.

And despite Cleland’s claim:

He believes the Iraq war has, in part, triggered his condition.

It’s isn’t Bush’s fault.

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, August 28th, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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