Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove (Hardcover)

How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove

By Max Cleland, Ben Raines

Simon & Schuster, 9781439126059, 272pp.

Publication Date: October 6, 2009



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, Max comes back from Vietnam missing three limbs and is confined for months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Doctors don't give him much hope of living an active life, but through the bonds he forms with other wounded soldiers, and through his own Southern grit, he learns how to be mobile and overcome his despair. He returns home, where he pursues his passion for public service by becoming the first Vietnam veteran to serve in the Georgia state senate. Jimmy Carter then appoints him head of the Veterans Administration. From there he becomes Georgia's youngest secretary of state and ultimately realizes his dream of becoming a U.S. Senator.

But during his reelection campaign he is singled out by Republicans, who smear him as "unpatriotic." He loses his seat and begins another steep tumble. A long-dormant case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, awakened after 9/11 by the invasion of Iraq, pushes Max to the brink. Forty years after Vietnam, having reached -- and fallen from -- a pinnacle of power, Max returns to Walter Reed as a patient, surrounded by veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Among them, Max again finds the faith and endurance to regain control of his life.

In a memoir free of bitterness but frank 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.

Praise For Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove

“The book is crisply written . . . Cleland and Ben Raines have produced an emotional and provoking book that fits his remarkable story into the broader context of the state of American politics since World War II. It is oftentimes uncomfortable, but always compelling.”

—Scotty E. Kirkland, The Mobile Press-Register (Alabama)

“Filled with bravery on many fronts and perseverance in life.”

New Pittsburgh Courier

“A true profile in courage for our time.”

—Senator Ted Kennedy


—Paul J. Nyden, Charleston Gazette (West Virginia)

“Deeply moving and uplifting . . . Cleland is as big a man as you’ll ever meet.”

—Jon Land, Providence Journal-Bulletin (Rhode Island)

“A powerful testament to one veteran’s struggles and successes… A classic American triumph.”

Roll Call

“Intensely honest and personal . . . Inspirational.”

Library Journal

Coverage from NPR