Archive for patriot

Remembering a patriot

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2022 by macmystery

I didn’t write anything when he passed in November, but one of my childhood heroes, Max Cleland, was one of the public figures that America lost in 2021, which just seemed like a cruel extension of 2020, and for me, even 2019.

For most outside of Georgia who know who Cleland was, he was a one-term moderate Democratic Senator from Georgia (1997-2003), or maybe even head of the Veterans Administration under President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981). He was a Georgia State Senator in the 1970s and Georgia’s Secretary of State from 1982 to 1996.

But closer to home, Cleland was from my hometown, Lithonia, went to my high school, and my school bus passed his childhood home, just a block or so from the school, on the way home every day. He was someone I actually saw at a couple local events. He was real. I could relate to him.

And he wasn’t just a hero to me, but he was an American hero. With just days left in his U.S. Army tour of duty, Cleland lost both legs and his right arm to a grenade blast at Khe Sahn, Vietnam in 1968. He was awarded Bronze Start and the Silver Star and sent home broken. But he was upbeat, positive and committed to making the lives of veterans — and all Americans — better.

Cleland lost his Senate re-election bid to Saxby Chambliss in 2003. If you read Chambliss’ Wikipedia page, you’ll read his accomplishments in the U.S. House and Senate and about how he worked across the aisle to get things done. However, Wikipedia doesn’t spend much time talking about how Chambliss, late in the race, gained points with conservative Republicans on the campaign trail by repeatedly questioning Cleland’s patriotism.

I guess three limbs wasn’t good enough. Maybe he should have given his other arm, too, … though I doubt it would have been enough for those people.

Rice University history professor Douglas Brinkley wrote a wonderful year-end piece — Max Cleland: A Veteran Who Kept Fighting From A Wheelchair — as part of Politico’s series on people we lost in 2021. The series also features pieces on such politicos as Colin Powell, Walter Mondale, Vernon Jordan and Rush Limbaugh.

The word “patriot” gets thrown around a lot these days. Unfortunately, often times … maybe most of the time … it’s for people that are anything but. I wish it didn’t take one dying to be reminded of what one really looks like.