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Max Cleland was a war hero, but not on the day he lost his limbs

Posted by John T. Reed on

I just saw Max Cleland on the Vietnam PBS series. The Wall Street Journal recently said he lost an arm and both legs “in the fighting there.”

No. He did not. He had the same job I had there: battalion communications platoon leader.

He was in Khe Sanh and got a Silver Star. But he did not get wounded there. Or anywhere. He was checking out the suitability of a hilltop as a place for FM radios. The higher up they are, the greater the range.

As he got out of a chopper, he saw a grenade on the ground, assumed it was his, and bent down to pick it up. In fact, it had fallen off the web gear of a brand new to Vietnam soldier who did not know to bend or tape the pins so the pin would not fall out of get pulled out. The pin on that grenade has fallen out. That starts about a five-second fuze burning.

Much of the dying and wounding in war comes not from enemy fire but from friendly fire or even just friendly stupidity. The weapons and vehicles of war are dangerous, and a great many of the American soldiers in Vietnam were morons. That combination of danger and stupidity kills and wounds.

Cleland was a hero at Khe Sanh. But his injuries later were nothing but dangerous incompetence of a rookie American.

Get the facts straight. Suffering a stupid injury in a war zone does not make the injury glorious or heroic. Cleland was a hero, but not on the day he lost his limbs.

Sloppiness on the facts is not allowed when talking about a war any more than when talking about a school board meeting.

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