December 8, 2021

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Max Cleland, Vietnam Veteran and Former Senator, Dies at 79 – The New York Times

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The loss of his seat and the start of the Iraq war in 2003 triggered a long-dormant case of post-traumatic stress disorder that sent Mr. Cleland back to Walter Reed hospital, outside Washington, where he had been treated after his injuries in Vietnam.

“After I lost the Senate race in 2002, my life collapsed,” he told History.net. “I went down in every way you can go down. I lost my life as I knew it.”

His anxiety was compounded, he said, because he had voted for the Iraq war, a stance he took, he said later, because if he had voted against it, he would have been “dead meat” in his re-election bid. He said it was the worst vote he had cast.

As therapy, he wrote a book, “Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove” (with Ben Raines, 2009).

“Through weekly counseling, medication for anxiety and depression, and weekly attendance at a spiritual Twelve Step recovery group, I began to heal,” he wrote, adding that he gained strength from being among veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. “My personal recovery and renewal have taken years.”

Joseph Maxwell Cleland was born on Aug. 24, 1942, in Atlanta, Ga. His mother, Juanita Cleland, worked as a secretary for Standard Oil. His father, Hugh Cleland, was in the Navy at the time. After the war, he moved the family to Lithonia, Ga., outside Atlanta, where he worked in the granite quarries. He later became a traveling salesman.

As a boy, Max, as he was called, became enthralled with cowboys, and for the rest of his life, he loved watching Westerns. Even as an adult he kept pictures of the Lone Ranger and Roy Rogers on his wall, among those of other heroes like Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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