lost three limbs in an accident during a routine
noncombat mission where he was about to drink
beer with friends. He saw a grenade on the ground
and picked it up. He could have done that at Fort
Dix. In fact, Cleland could have dropped a grenade
on his foot as a National Guardsman - or what
Cleland sneeringly calls "weekend warriors." Luckily
for Cleland's political career and current pomposity
about Bush, he happened to do it while in Vietnam.
- Ann Coulter, essay, 2/16/04
I read Ann "Thrax" Coulter's essay on Max Cleland,
war hero and former Senator, I shook my head in
disgust and realized that this would be my next
essay, and that it would pretty much write itself.
to my surprise, it didn't. The sense of revulsion
and disgust and outrage was pretty close to universal,
and Republicans as well as Democrats were attacking
Coulter for her vile words. I looked at various
editorials, all saying pretty much the same things
I wanted to say, and realized that I wasn't going
to say anything that wasn't obvious and redundant.
She's a vicious, nasty bitch who brought shame
and disgrace down upon her head and the heads
of those who support her. How could anyone say
a man was "lucky" for losing three limbs while
in the service of his country? Even more appalling
were the bare-faced lies that accompanied that
paragraph; that he was picking up a grenade while
on a beer run, not anywhere near a combat zone,
and if it had happened at Fort Dix instead, he
would be no hero.
do you write? Hundreds of people had already written
about how Cleland got his Silver Star four days
BEFORE the accident, how he was, in fact, in a
combat zone, if not under immediate fire, and
how his action undoubtedly saved lives. I would
like to see Ann Coulter race to pick up a grenade
and throw it away, not knowing if it was armed
and cocked or not.
I made several false starts, and was still mulling
it over when my friend Bob Kemp stopped by. Bob
is someone I'm always glad to see, and unless
I'm under really big deadline pressure, I'm always
ready to blow an hour just shooting the shit with
a "Small 'l' libertarian," one of these "leave
me to my vine and fig tree and I'll leave you
to yours" types, which means that on politics,
we agree a lot more than we disagree, and the
sort of stuff we disagree on usually isn't real
important. He did high-pressure work in LA for
years, and then came up here and lives as simple
a life as he can manage, sharpening knives and
selling stuff on ebay and the like.
we blew some time talking about the primaries
and Putsch and ships and sails and sealing wax
and carpenters and kings. Then I happened to mention
Coulter's column and what she said about Max Cleland.
was surprised he hadn't heard about it, since
he keeps up on the news at least as much as I
do. He shook his head. Bob's not the sort of guy
who gets red in the face and shouts, and he didn't
now. But he had some thoughts to share about losing
limbs while in service to your country, even if
it was stateside.
Bob's case, his injuries came, not at Fort Dix,
but at Camp Pendleton, in 1962. He was an E-3,
and they were on the firing range, and one guy
who was firing heavy rounds from an M-14 picked
right then to lose it and start shooting everyone
on the range. Bob caught two bullets, one in each
was lucky, Zeppy. They saved my legs."
truth, right up until that moment I hadn't known
he had anything ever happen to them. The doctors
did a good job. But those are big, high-velocity
bullets that struck him, and even through the
injuries were below his knees, the hydrostatic
shock caused capillary damage throughout much
of his body.
was lucky, Zeppy. Most of the capillary damage
for his heart. As a result of being shot in the
lower legs, he had chronic heart problems from
that day onward. Heart muscle doesn't regenerate
the way other tissue can, and so he had to deal
with some minor, but significant restrictions.
forty years, he got heart medication and other
treatment through the VA. Like most vets, he usually
bitched, and usually with good reason, about the
quality of care.
then, two years ago, the VA tried to cut him off.
His injuries, they ruled, were not "combat related."
That's true. He wasn't anywhere near a battlefield.
In 1962 there wasn't much in the way of battlefields
involving Americans. It was a lucky time.
was lucky, Zeppy. They managed to get that overturned."
talked for a while about the Old Fart, a mutual
friend who had spent 20 years fighting for quality
care for vets. He had helped Bob. The Old Fart
died a few years ago, gasping for air and still
contemptuous of the way his country treated him
and all others who served. He didn't die in a
VA hospital. He died at home, in his bed, with
his dog keeping him company. He was lucky.
told me of a friend, also a vet, who had melanoma.
It attacked his ears, and in Bob's words, "they
[The VA] whacked off his ears and burned the scars."
The guy had to put salve on the areas where his
ears had been, but it hurt too much. So Bob did
it. One time, Bob looked at the tube of salve,
and stopped short. "Have you ever read this tube?"
he asked his friend.
friend shrugged and said, "Why the fuck should
I read it? I just take the stuff they give me.
Fuck it. I'm dying anyway."
shook his head and told me, "He died four days
later. He took his gun and blew his brains out."
seen what end-stage melanoma is like, and from
what Bob told me, this guy had it in his bones,
in his brain, everywhere. He was lucky he was
able to shoot himself.
what had startled Bob was the tube had a big black
skull-and-crossbones on it and the words, "For
experimental use only."
have been claiming for years that VA is trying
to kill them to save money. Incidents like this
are why I don't think it's just paranoia. Bob
explained that VA can do this, because even though
you are no longer in the service and are a civilian,
your rights are still curtailed, because you sign
a release that essentially allows them to treat
you as a guinea pig, a lab rat. If you die, oh
well. A fair bit of human experimentation of the
sort banned by international treaties takes place
on American vets.
months ago, Bob's kidneys started to hurt. He
thought it might be the new medication he had
just been put on to lower his triglycerides. He
didn't want to drive all the way down to Sacramento,
300 miles away, just to be told they didn't know
and didn't much care, so he popped by the local
Pharmacy Express and asked the guy behind the
counter about the stuff, a cholesterol-lowering
drug called Gemfibrozil. The guy punched it into
his computer, and the expression on his face changed.
"Are you taking Lovastatin or Niacin?" he asked.
Bob replied that he was taking both at his VA
taking this immediately. The interaction is listed
as severe, and can cause kidney failure and death."
went home, and double checked the information
on his computer. It took two minutes to confirm
what the pharmacist had told him. He stopped taking
the drug immediately.
doesn't the VA have access to computerized drug
interaction data bases when everyone else with
a computer does?
of the reason is that Putsch cut funding for VA
by $28 billion over the past two years. Well,
someone's got to pay for the war in Iraq and the
tax cuts for the rich, and the vets are among
the lucky ones.
stopped taking the deadly combination of drugs
immediately. "My kidneys still hurt," he told
me, "but at least I'm alive. I'm lucky, Zeppy."
course, he still wonders if his government would
prefer that he was dead and not costing them money
that should go to the more deserving rich.
have a hard time of it. A lot of them are like
Bob, screwed up in unglamorous ways, and having
a rough time getting more than lip service from
their allegedly "grateful nation."
they can look at Ann Coulter, and reflect that
whatever else may beset them, at least they aren't
mentally, emotionally and morally crippled like
Posted: February 20, 2004