Cover To Cover is the anchor program for GPB’s literary coverage. Cover To Cover features a collection of distinctive Southern voices interviewing Georgia writers, Southern writers, and writers dealing with the South. The GPB Southern Lit Cadre will provide you with a varied, weekly glimpse at fiction, non-fiction, history, poetry, and even the occasional ‘old school’ nod to Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Heart of a Patriot

By the time he had reached middle age, Max Cleland thought he had nothing to live for. A grenade explosion in Vietnam had left him a triple amputee. He had lost his seat in the U.S. Senate, and in the grip of depression he had lost his fiancée, too. But instead of giving up, Cleland reaches deep into his soul and discovers that he has what it takes to survive: the heart of a patriot.

Born and raised in Georgia, Cleland came back from Vietnam missing three limbs and was confined for months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Doctors didn't give him much hope of living an active life, but through the bonds he formed with other wounded soldiers, and through his own Southern grit, he learned how to be mobile and overcome his despair. He returned to Georgia and pursued his passion for public service by becoming the first Vietnam veteran to serve in the Georgia state senate. Jimmy Carter appointed him head of the Veterans Administration. Later he became Georgia's youngest secretary of state and then in 1996 was elected to the U.S. Senate.

But during his reelection campaign he is singled out by Karl Rove and the Republicans, who campaigned against him as "unpatriotic." He lost the election and sank into deep depression. A long-dormant case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, awakened after 9/11 by the invasion of Iraq, pushed Cleland to the brink. Forty years after Vietnam, having reached -- and fallen from -- a pinnacle of power, Cleland returned to Walter Reed as a patient, this time surrounded by veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. There he found the faith and endurance to regain control of his life.

In a memoir in which he pulls no punches about the costs of being a soldier, Max Cleland describes with love the ties America's soldiers forge with one another, along with the disillusionment many of them experience when they come home. He spares no one his humiliations and setbacks in this gut-wrenching account of his life in the hope it will keep even one veteran from descending into darkness. Heart of a Patriot is a story about the joy of serving the country you love, no matter the cost -- and how to recover from the deepest wounds of war.

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