[Congressional Record Volume 145, Number 44 (Friday, March 19, 1999)]
[Pages S2992-S2993]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                         A STUNNING REVELATION

  Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, I read a remarkable article this week in the 
Hill newspaper concerning the distinguished Senator from Georgia, Mr. 
Cleland. The article recounted events that occurred 31 years ago in 
Vietnam when then-Captain Cleland was gravely injured in a grenade 
explosion. The injuries that he received in that horrible accident cost 
him his right arm and both of his legs, and very nearly cost him his 
life. He was 25 years old at the time, and just 1 month shy--just 1 
month shy--of completing his tour of duty in Vietnam. Now, think of 
that. Just a month to go.
  For more than three decades, Max Cleland lived with the crushing 
belief that his own carelessness had caused the accident, that the hand 
grenade that shattered his body and shattered his life had somehow 
fallen from his own web belt when he jumped from the helicopter. Most 
people in Max Cleland's situation would have been consumed with self-
pity, even if they had had the grit to live. Think of that. The young 
Captain Cleland certainly battled it. But as he has handled so many of 
the challenges that have marked his life since that terrible day in 
Vietnam, Max Cleland triumphed over the lure of self-pity. He triumphed 
over his injuries. He triumphed over self-doubt. He triumphed over 
  Max Cleland could have given up after that accident in Vietnam. Most 
of us would have. But he did not. He turned his misfortune into the 
service of others. Three years after returning home from Vietnam, he 
was elected to the Georgia State Senate, becoming the youngest member 
and the only Vietnam veteran in that body. In 1977, he became the 
youngest administrator of the U.S. Veterans' Administration and the 
first Vietnam veteran to head that Agency. He returned to Georgia 
where, in 1982, he was elected Secretary of State. And, in 1996, he was 
elected to the U.S. Senate from Georgia.
  Now, that is a remarkable record, a remarkable feat. It is remarkable 
for anyone to reach the Senate of the United States. Out of all the 
millions of people that are in America, there are 100 Senators--the 
same number that were in the original Roman Senate when Romulus founded 
that city on the banks of the Tiber. He created the Senate, made up of 
100 of the wisest men, and he chose old men for that Senate.
  So here is a man with the disadvantages that Max Cleland had to 
overcome, the struggle that he had to undergo daily and nightly, every 
hour of the day, even to live, and he made it to the U.S. Senate. In 
all of that time, he quietly blamed himself for the accident that so 
radically altered his life.
  But last week, according to the report in the Hill, Senator Cleland 
was stunned to learn from an eyewitness that the grenade that injured 
him was not one of his own, but had been lost by another soldier.
  My wife and I are reading the Psalms. Every Sunday, we read it. 
Actually, we have completed the Psalms, and now we are in Ecclesiastes.

       Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; 
     all is vanity.

  In our reading of the Bible, we have already read the New Testament 
and we have read the Old Testament. We have come all the way down, as I 
say, to the Book of Ecclesiastes. From the 85th Psalm, I will quote two 

       Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace 
     have kissed each other.

  Through his indomitable spirit, Max Cleland overcame the injuries he 
received as a young Army captain in Vietnam and conquered the 
temptation to succumb to self-pity. He is an inspiration to us all, and 
I hope that he finds a measure of peace and solace in the long-lost 
truth that was revealed to him this past week.
  Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the article from the 
March 17 issue of the Hill, titled, ``For Senator Cleland, a Searing 
Revelation After 31 Years,'' be printed in its entirety at this point 
in the Record.
  There being no objection, the article was ordered to be printed in 
the Record, as follows:

[[Page S2993]]

                     [From the Hill, Mar. 17, 1999]

         For Sen. Cleland, a Searing Revelation After 31 Years

               (By E. Michael Myers and Betsy Rothstein)

       For 31 years, Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) has labored under 
     the belief that he was to blame for dropping the hand grenade 
     that forever transformed his life.
       It was an otherwise insignificant moment in a still-
     divisive war, a terrible instant when Cleland lost his legs, 
     his right arm and, for the time being, his dignity.
       But from the confusion of that moment--the bleeding, the 
     flood of nausea, the blinding pain, the medics scrambling to 
     patch him together--has emerged an unshakable notion: that he 
     was most likely responsible for that act.
       That is, until now.
       The year was 1968. The war, Vietnam. The place, a valley 
     called Khe Sanh.
       The valley, only 14 miles from the demilitarized zone, was 
     as dangerous as it was deceptive.
       From the air, Khe Sanh was a bastion of streams, rolling 
     hills, picturesque cliffs, lush vegetation and even a 
     waterfall. On the ground, it was teeming with giant rats, 
     razor-sharp grasses, precipitous grades and rivers with 
     violent rapids.
       Some 6,000 American Marines were holed up in Khe Sanh. 
     Hiding in the hills surrounding the valley were North 
     Vietnamese army troops. Nobody knew exactly how many. One 
     estimate said 20,000. Another said twice that number.
       The hills were so dangerous that supply convoys could not 
     make it through Route 9, the main road into Khe Sanh. The 
     Marines turned to helicopters for their shipments. But even 
     that became so dangerous that C-130 planes had to swoop from 
     the skies to drop supplies from the cargo bays.
       Khe Sanh itself was hardly worth saving. Its strategic 
     importance was so low that, when the Americans did finally 
     capture it, they let it go again.
       Instead, Gen. William Westmoreland feared another Dien Bien 
     Phu, the 1954 battle which led to the French retreat from 
     Vietnam. The sight of a brigade of Marines in body bags being 
     hauled from Khe Sanh would have been a tragedy of awesome 
       That is why the general ordered Operation Pegasus, a large-
     scale joint Army-Marines rescue effort. Included in the 
     operation was the Army's 1st Air Cavalry Division, the 
     division of 25-year-old Capt. Max Cleland.
       The tall son of a secretary and an automobile salesman from 
     Lithonia, Georgia, had signed up for Reserve Officers' 
     Training Corps at Stetson University, was trained in 
     guerrilla warfare and had always ached to fight in an 
     important battle.
       After his first three months as a platoon leader of a 
     signal battalion, he thought, ``It didn't seem like much of a 
       So he volunteered for a dangerous new assignment that would 
     take him to what he considered the nucleus of the war. He 
     became communications officer with the 2nd Infantry Battalion 
     of the 12th Cavalry with the Cav's 2nd Brigade.
       Cleland's boredom quickly subsided. At one point during 
     Operation Pegasus, he spent five days and five nights in a 
     bomb crater 20 feet in diameter. In a letter to an aunt, he 
     wrote, ``If I ever make it back to the Atlanta airport, I'll 
     be happy just to crawl home regardless of what shape I'm 
       Some of the hills around Khe Sanh were battlefields almost 
     as harrowing as any in U.S. military history. Marines still 
     boast of having survived battles known only as Hill 881 and 
     Hill 861.
       But the hill where Cleland's fate was decided--once east of 
     Khe Sanh--would not become known for any great act of valor. 
     Its strategic importance was as a communications relay 
       The 12th Cav's Maj. Maury Cralle, Cleland's commanding 
     officer who was stationed in the rear, recalls that he had 
     trouble communicating consistently with the front lines. A 
     relay was needed.
       On April 8, 1968, less than a week before the siege of Khe 
     Sanh was broken and one month before his anticipated 
     departure from Vietnam, Capt. Cleland accompanied his men by 
     helicopter to the hill, arriving within minutes.
       He had jumped from helicopters countless times before. 
     Usually, there was nothing to it.
       He jumped, and once clear of the spinning helicopter 
     blades, turned, watching the chopper lift into the air. 
     That's when he noticed the hand grenade resting on the 
       Ordinarily, grenades only detonate when their pins are 
     pulled. Somehow, this grenade's pin had become dislodged. All 
     Cleland saw was the grenade.
       ``I went toward it,'' Cleland said in an interview with The 
     Hill last week. ``I didn't know it was live. It wasn't a 
     heroic act. I just thought it was mine. I really didn't know 
     where in the hell it came from.''
       The explosion threw Cleland backwards. His right hand and 
     most of his right leg were gone, and his left leg was a 
     bloody mass.
       ``The blast jammed my eyeballs into my skull, temporarily 
     blinding me, pinning my cheeks and jaw muscles to the bones 
     of my face,'' Cleland wrote in his 1980 memoir. ``My ears 
     rang with a deafening reverberation as if I were standing in 
     an echo chamber.''
       For days, as he fought for his life, flashbacks of the 
     incident haunted him. ``Why had I pressed my luck? What was I 
     trying to prove?''
       For more than three months, he battled his condition in 
     Walter Reed Army Medical Center in an orthopedics ward known 
     as the ``Snake Pit.'' It was there where he also battled his 
       For years, Cleland has been inundated by the ``awkward 
     self-conscious stares of people.''
       ``I have done that `mea culpa' thing for a long time,'' he 
     described last week. ``Like, `You were stupid to volunteer, 
     you were stupid to go [to Vietnam], you were stupid to get 
     blown up, you are stupid, stupid stupid.' ''
       His resolute spirit allowed Cleland to fight the self-
     doubts and to eventually serve as administrator of the 
     Department of Veterans' Affairs under President Carter and 
     win election to the Senate in 1996.
       But as he rolled that critical event over and over again in 
     his mind, one pervading thought stood still: ``Somehow I had 
     fumbled the ball.''
       Last week, Cleland was stunned when he received a phone 
     call from a man named David Lloyd--a 60-mm mortar squad 
     leader in ``Charlie'' Company of the 1st Brigade, 1st 
     Regiment of the 1st Marine Division.
       Lloyd told Cleland that the grenade that nearly killed him 
     belonged to another soldier.
       Lloyd, now a retired airline worker living in Annapolis, 
     Md., told Cleland that he, too, had been stationed on that 
     hill outside Khe Sanh that fateful day. Lloyd said he had 
     watched as Cleland's helicopter came in for landing and, 
     although he couldn't be sure, he believes he even took a 
       Lloyd provided The Hill with that photo, as well as 
     evidence of his service in Charlie Company. Company-level 
     documents could not be located for this article. But Marine 
     Corps archival records confirm that one of his brigade's 
     assignments was to set up a relay station outside Khe Sanh 
     during the first two weeks of April 1968 for the Army's First 
     Air Cavalry Division--Cleland's division.
       Earlier this month, Lloyd was watching a program about 
     combat medical corpsman on the History Channel in which the 
     senator detailed his account of his injuries. For the first 
     time, he learned that Cleland blamed himself for his 
       Lloyd was stunned. ``He had said he had an accident, that 
     he was always dropping things off his web belt, but that is 
     not what happened,'' Lloyd described in an interview. ``I was 
     there, I know what happened.''
       Lloyd saw the explosion from his mortar pit 20 yards away 
     and rushed up to Cleland's torn body.
       ``He was white as chalk,'' Lloyd said. ``His pants were 
     smoldering. It was devastating. I saw literally thousands of 
     wounds in Vietnam. I never thought he would survive.''
       Lloyd cut off Cleland's shredded fatigues. He used a belt 
     and medical wrappings to set a tourniquet around the bleeding 
     stumps of his legs. Moments later, a Navy corpsman arrived on 
     the scene and ordered Lloyd to help another wounded soldier 
     who had numerous shrapnel wounds.
       Said Lloyd of the second soldier: ``He was crying, but I 
     didn't think it was from the grenade fragments. He kept 
     saying, `It was my grenade, my grenade.' He was very upset.''
       Last Thursday, in the Senate Dining Room, Cleland and Lloyd 
     met for the first time.
       For a moment, the former Army captain's world turned upside 
     down. ``It is amazing, it is mind-boggling to go back to the 
     most traumatic part of your life and have the furniture 
     rearranged,'' Cleland said. ``For 31 years, that has been the 
     only story I really knew.''
       Slowly trying to digest the information Lloyd has given 
     him, Cleland said,``I don't know whether this gives me relief 
     or not. I guess it is better that way than if it had been my 
     fault. It frees me up to a certain extent.''
       Still, for Cleland there are many unanswered questions.
       ``I think after you survive something traumatic, you wonder 
     why the hell you are alive, why you were left and somebody 
     else is taken. It is called survivor guilt.
       ``You wonder if God wants me here, why does He want me 
     here, what is He out for?''
       Cleland said he knows he is here only by the grace of God, 
     good friends and people like Lloyd, who helped him when he 
     was dying.
       ``I feel I am where the good Lord wants me. Otherwise I 
     wouldn't be here, I would be on the Wall. Oh my God. Thirty-
     one years later, it wasn't my hand grenade at all, it was 
     somebody else's? It's been a hell of a week.''
  Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that I may be 
permitted to proceed for my full 10 minutes, if necessary.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.