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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

New Firestorms Erupting for All Three Candidates; Obama and McCain Go Head to Head on the GI Bill; Planet in Peril - Rebuilding the Wetlands; Tornado Terror; Keeping Them Honest -- One Soldier's Struggle

Aired May 26, 2008 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And tornado terror. Unbelievable video from this weekend's deadly storms. Seven people are dead in two states. You'll hear from the man who shot this video from a helicopter as a twister approached.
We begin with new firestorms erupting for all three candidates. And it comes on a very busy day on the campaign trail fighting tonight even as they honor America's fallen heroes.

Barack Obama in New Mexico for a Memorial Day town hall meeting with Governor Bill Richardson. He also took some shots at John McCain over the proposed GI Bill. We'll have more on that ahead.

McCain was also hitting back at Obama today. He was in Albuquerque speaking at a Veterans Memorial.

And Hillary Clinton held a rally in Puerto Rico. She later appeared at the Puerto Rico Senate. Clinton's campaign has spent much of this weekend trying to shake off the comments she made on Friday, citing the assassination of Robert Kennedy when she was discussing her staying in the race.

This weekend, her camp accused the Obama campaign of fanning the flames, taking her words out of context. On the trail tonight, Suzanne Malveaux traveling with Clinton in Puerto Rico.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Greeted wildly but with her opponent's chant. "Yes, we can." Hillary Clinton used her little Spanish to get the crowd on message.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not only "Si, se puede," (speaks foreign language), we will.

MALVEAUX: Getting back on message in Puerto Rico today was critical after a weekend dogged by debate. On Friday, in defending her right to stay in the race through June, Clinton noted Robert Kennedy was still campaigning that month until he was assassinated.

CLINTON: We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.

MALVEAUX: The remark drew criticism all weekend even after she apologized.

MAUREEN DOWD, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think it gave delegates and a lot of Democrats the creeps because basically the only reason she is still in the race is that something bad will happen.

MALVEAUX: The two campaigns agreed to move on.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not think that Senator Clinton intended anything by it, and, you know, I think we should put it behind us.

MALVEAUX: Robert Kennedy Jr. backed her up, saying she was clearly focused on how long past primaries have run, not on assassinations.

Now Clinton and her family are putting on a good face in Puerto Rico. The last big contest left; 55 delegates at stake.

CLINTON: I do not think there is a more important election that you will have an opportunity to vote in than this Sunday.

MALVEAUX: Clinton pressing issues Puerto Ricans care about, the debate over statehood, the economy and the war.

CLINTON: I pledge to you, I will end the war in Iraq, bring our troops home and take care of our veterans the way they should be cared for.

MALVEAUX: She even challenged Obama to another debate, even though he has ruled out any more.

CLINTON: I will debate about the future of Puerto Rico any time, anywhere, because I believe it is critical.

MALVEAUX: But Obama has indeed moved on. Not just from Clinton's Kennedy remarks but from Clinton herself. He made a quick stop in Puerto Rico Saturday but he is now campaigning for the Latino vote in New Mexico and taking on John McCain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Suzanne, as you were pointing out people in Puerto Rico cannot vote in the general elections, so how important is the primary there?

MALVEAUX: It is very important for both of these candidates. Essentially, they offer 55 pledged delegates in Puerto Rico. Barack Obama needs 49 to clinch the nomination. If that happens, he gets it.

As for Hillary Clinton, if she can win Puerto Rico, she can move forward with her argument to the uncommitted superdelegates that she is getting stronger, she has got more pledged delegates, she has got more of the popular vote and that she also has the Latino vote. And that would move her forward perhaps toward superdelegates going in her direction.

COOPER: Taking it with a grain of salt, what do the polls say there?

MALVEAUX: The polls say that Hillary Clinton is doing better. The last poll that taken, about 13 points stronger than Barack Obama. But essentially Barack Obama does not necessarily have to win Puerto Rico in order to clinch the nomination.

There could be a group of superdelegates that join, saying this week or shortly afterwards that could put him over the top. So Puerto Rico may not actually decide this nomination. Ultimately it is going to come down to those superdelegates.

COOPER: Suzanne Malveaux in San Juan. Suzanne thanks.

Bill Clinton is back in the spotlight tonight and in a big way. He is lashing out at pundits, at politicians and the Obama campaign saying superdelegates are being bullied and pressured to support Obama.

His wife, he says, is winning the general election and he says it is being covered up. CNN's Brian Todd has the "Raw Politics."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She is standing up for you.

BRIAN TODD, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: The former president tells voters to ignore calls by "People on television for Hillary Clinton to drop out," and says she has been getting a raw deal throughout the campaign.

BILL CLINTON: I have never seen anything like it. I have never seen a candidate treated so disrespectfully just for running.

TODD: Pleading for time, he tells an audience in South Dakota his wife still has a chance.

B. CLINTON: Why have all these people tried to run her out of this race? They are trying to get her to cry "uncle" before the Democratic Party has to decide what to do in Florida and Michigan.

TODD: The former president says he also sees an effort afoot to strong arm undecided superdelegates to make their choice, fast.

B. CLINTON: I cannot believe it. It is frantic the way they are trying to push and pressure and bully all these superdelegates to come out.

TODD: The superdelegate count has recently tipped in favor of Senator Clinton's rival Barack Obama. In the last week he has picked up 17 to her 5. Obama, for his part, has tried to take the high road, praising Mrs. Clinton at every opportunity.

OBAMA: As she has set the standard, she has broken through barriers and will open up opportunity for a lot of people, including my two young daughters. SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: Well, he does not want her to feel disrespected and her followers to feel that she has been disrespected.

TODD: Will that be enough for Obama to win over her voters if he becomes the Democratic nominee?

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO: A lot of her supporters, women supporters, feel she definitely has not been treated respectfully and they believe that the best sign of respect that Barack Obama could deliver is to pick her as his vice president.

TODD: Even Bill Clinton reportedly believes that if his wife does not win the nomination, she has at least earned a shot at the number two slot. But for now the Clintons are focusing on the top job, campaigning together in Puerto Rico.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Let's dig deeper now with our panel. Joining me now is Republican strategist Ed Rollins and Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman, who is a superdelegate and supports Clinton.

Ed, Bill Clinton says that they are trying to bully the superdelegates and push her out. Is he right, and if so, who is they?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I mean no, I mean Bill Clinton has been around a long time, no disrespect to the former president. It is a tough game and there is no "they"; there is no big bosses in Washington.

Both he and Bush are attacking the media for not treating any of them fairly and I think to a certain extent they diminish their case. I mean the case is that she is run a great campaign she has been much stronger than the last two months than Obama has, but it is a tough business.

COOPER: Robert the terms he is using are pretty tough. He says he has never seen a candidate treated so disrespectfully just for running. Do you agree? And if so, do you worry at all as Ed says that they are diminishing the candidate?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, CLINTON SUPPORTER: I think certainly I agree she is being treated disrespectfully. I do not know if she has being treated the most disrespectfully but I think the point here is obviously I can appreciate the Clinton's frustrations. Here Hillary Clinton has won as many votes as Barack Obama. Some counts more so. This race is still going forward. There will be some dramatic changes May 31.

COOPER: You are counting Florida and Michigan?

ZIMMERMAN: I am counting Florida and Michigan. But I think there will be some dramatic changes May 31 when Michigan and Florida are seated. Right now we are talking about 2,026 delegates to win the nomination. That number will increase dramatically by perhaps 50 or a 100 after Michigan and Florida are seated.

COOPER: Do you buy that math?

ROLLINS: Yeah, I am not a member of the National Rules Committee or the Democratic Party, but I think there is no question that they have to seat Florida and Michigan. They have to determine how many they are going to put on -- otherwise they will be going to have big problems in the fall.

ZIMMERMAN: You see Anderson it is really not about spin, it is about third grade math. The 2,026 numbers based upon 48 states and territories. If in fact the rules and by laws committee seats Florida and Michigan, as the Obama and Clinton campaigns say they want to see happen, that means you will have 50 states.

That is increasing the delegate count therefore the number that will be required for the nomination.

COOPER: I want to read something that Hillary Clinton wrote in an open in the New York Daily News about why she is running. She said, "I am running because I believe staying in this race will help unite the Democratic Party. I believe that if Senator Obama and I both make our case and all Democrats have the chance to make their voices heard, in the end, everyone will be more likely to rally around the nominee."

Ed, do you think this is uniting the party?

ROLLINS: I think it's -- I do not think competition is a bad thing. I think to a certain extent both are energizing certain segments of the base. I have to assume as I have watched 40 years of this business that when Obama or Hillary is the nominee, they are going to come together.

It may be a little pushing and shoving for a while. But in the end against John McCain it will be a unified party. And we as Republicans have to be prepared for that.

COOPER: We're hearing, Richard, rumblings from the Clinton campaign -- I mean, Robert -- I don't know where my head is.

ZIMMERMAN: It's Memorial weekend.

COOPER: It is. No, it's been a long weekend.

But we're hearing rumblings from the Clinton campaign that this could go all the way to the convention. I mean, Hillary Clinton has said this. Bill Clinton has intimated this. Do you believe this has much life beyond June 3, June 4?

ZIMMERMAN: I do not think that it will go all the way to the convention. I certainly hope it does not. I think what will be interesting to watch is, after Puerto Rico votes, and that is a very big voting state, could be over a million registered Democrats voting there. After Puerto Rico votes and then the final two contests on June 3, you could have a scenario where Hillary Clinton has won the popular vote -- Barack Obama --

COOPER: They do not get to vote in the general election?

ZIMMERMAN: No, they don't, but they vote for the Democratic nomination. That will take another shot to figure that one out. Ok, that has been going on since 1980.

But the point is you will have the scenario where Hillary Clinton could be winning the popular vote and Barack Obama could have a delegate lead of perhaps 100 delegates, maybe a few more. And then it will be up to the superdelegates to decide where to go.

COOPER: Ed?

ROLLINS: A sad thing about all of this and I do not mean to get into Democratic politics, if they have left these calendar as it was, you would be going in the last week and the first week in June with states like California and New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, who always voted very late, making a decision and they are the ones that should make the decision.

ZIMMERMAN: That is why we chose Ed's advice.

COOPER: We're going to have more from Ed and Robert Zimmerman coming up after this break.

As always I am blogging throughout the hour. You can join the conversation. Go to cnn.com/360.

Ahead on the program, Obama versus McCain, the fight over the GI Bill. Today, both candidates went head to head on the heated issue. We will take you up close.

And later as close as you will ever want to get to a massive tornado. Take a look at these pictures. We will bring you the latest on the tornadoes that obliterated communities and lives in the Midwest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MASON DUNN, HELICOPTER PILOT: It is a large tornado; very large. That is the most impressive tornado I think I have ever seen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAMA: We should make sure that today's veterans get the same benefit that my grandfather got when he came back from World War II. It was a good investment not only for him but it was a good investment for the country. It builds our middle class.

So we are going to make sure that that gets passed, because we have got to have outstanding educational opportunities for veterans when they come home.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Barack Obama marking Memorial Day in a crucial swing state, New Mexico, by speaking about his support of this GI Bill which passed the Senate last week. It is not a done deal by any measure. The GI Bill battle could go on for months in fact.

John McCain also in New Mexico today, called the bill a mistake of colossal proportions. The politics aside, some veterans just are not getting enough money from the government for their education to make ends meet.

Up close tonight, here's CNN's Randi Kaye.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: After two tours in Iraq, Marine Corporal Kevin Grafeld works as a paint ball referee.

KEVIN GRAFELD, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: Both sides get ready. KAYE: This former intelligence specialist needs money for college.

When you signed up with the marines, what were you told about college and how much would be covered?

GRAFELD: What I was told was the GI Bill was going to pay for everything. You know school, books, tuition, living expenses, gas, the whole nine.

KAYE: Kevin says classes here at Nassau Community College cost him about $1,600 a semester. He gets about $2,400 a semester from the GI Bill but says that is not enough to cover even half of his expenses. Factor in books, gasoline to get to campus, even lab fees for science classes and the GI Bill still comes up short. Corporal Grafeld even moved in with his parents to save money.

CORPORAL GRAFELD: Not trying to sound greedy, but I do think we deserve at least a little bit more. I do not want a free ride. But I at least want the ability to stand up on my own two feet and make something of myself.

KAYE: Signed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, critics say the GI Bill which contributes to veterans' college education has not kept pace with rising costs. Two proposals are being debated in Congress.

Senators Jim Webb and Chuck Hagel want four years' tuition covered at a public university, plus living experiences for veterans who served at least three years. One study estimates the bill will reduce retention rates by 16 percent, so John McCain is suggesting an alternative. Increased benefits based on length of service to keep troops serving longer in a military stretched thin.

Barack Obama threw the first punch.

OBAMA: I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country. But I cannot understand why he would wind up behind the president in his opposition to this GI Bill. I cannot believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans.

KAYE: McCain issued this scathing statement. "I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did." Obama did not let that go.

OBAMA: I think the notion that somehow I cannot speak out on behalf of veterans because of the fact that I did not serve makes no sense whatsoever.

KAYE: President Bush threatens to veto the Webb/Hagel bill though Congress passed it overwhelmingly. The debate goes on. And Kevin Grafeld's bills mount.

We go to Iraq, we go to Afghanistan, we go to Africa, we go all over the world and we serve our country at the drop of a hat. We do whatever is asked of us. And when we get out, we are being paid this tiny, tiny amount of money to go to school.

KAYE: Increasing troops' education benefits may cost $2 billion a year. Too much? Consider this -- it cost just as much to fight one week of war in Iraq.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Levittown, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Let us dig deeper now on the GI bill and the debate that is raging between Senators McCain and Obama. Joining us again, Republican strategist Ed Rollins and Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman, who is a superdelegate and supports Hillary Clinton.

Politically, Robert, the Democrats have done of a sort of a masterful job of putting the Republicans against the corner on this.

ZIMMERMAN: It is really probably Barack Obama's shining moment in this campaign. The way he phrased this debate, the way he framed the issue. And to the credit of Republicans on Capitol Hill, like Senator Chuck Hagel, who has joined Senator Webb.

Just seeing a strong bipartisan consensus to provide our GI's the same benefits that proportionally were awarded in 1944. We are talking about $52 billion over ten years. And that is really a pittance compared to what George Bush has sunk into the Iraqi government.

COOPER: Ed, politically have the Republicans been outmaneuvered on this?

ROLLINS: Well, I think John McCain has been outmaneuvered and no one has a right to challenge John McCain's patriotism or his support of the troops or his understanding of veterans.

But here you have two men, both of them served in the Reagan administration, Chuck Hagel, Vietnam veteran wounded, was the deputy VA administrator in the Reagan administration. Webb was the Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration. Both advocating for a volunteer military where in the past it was always a drafted military but we give them benefits.

Sometimes in politics, there are intellectual issues and emotional issues. Intellectually, John McCain may be right, the President may be right. Emotionally, you are on the wrong side, you can never win an emotional battle of an intellectual argument.

COOPER: Is it fair Robert, for John McCain to basically say to Barack Obama you have no right talking about this stuff or challenging me on this because you did not choose to serve?

ZIMMERMAN: That is what so compelling. First of all, John McCain has said many times over the years military service is not a requirement to be president. I suppose that is why he supported George Bush. But the point here is, when it comes to this particular issue, they quote the Congressional Budget Office, Senator McCain did, saying it would diminish retention by 16 percent.

The Congressional Budget Office also reported it would encourage new recruitments by approximately 16 percent because of the added benefits. So I think that it is very telling by the fact that McCain ignored the facts and attacked Obama personally.

COOPER: Moving forward Ed, it does it become difficult -- is this a weakness for Barack Obama, the fact that he never served? We should point out that he was too young for Vietnam and I think probably too old for Desert Storm.

ROLLINS: It is certainly not an issue anymore and I think George Bush broke that mold. I think the bottom line here in the statistic that was astonishing to me is George Bush's father was a war hero lost the veterans' vote to Bill Clinton who was not -- who did not serve in a war.

Same way with Bob Dole a war hero lost the vote. I think in this particular case, John McCain is going against veterans groups; he is going against a constituency that should be his. As I said he is a man of courage. I think he actually believes in this. But I think he is on the wrong side of this issue.

COOPER: Where does it play out? I mean what is the life of this?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I am sure the Democrats want to keep this debate going for a long time. But I think ultimately you are going to see -- I predict a Congressional override, because ultimately on the merits, this is the right thing to do. Especially since we are talking about bringing really not anything additional but giving veterans the same benefits veterans got in 1944.

And I think it will be a presidential override of the veto and I think John McCain will really have a lot of -- it puts him really in a very difficult spot. COOPER: Do you agree with that?

ROLLINS: A lot of Republicans are voting for this, and I think to a certain extent as it moves forward there will be more and more. There will be tremendous pressure from Veterans Groups past and present and I think you will see a lot of bipartisan support for this as well.

COOPER: Ed Rollins, appreciate your time as well on this holiday. And Robert Zimmerman, thanks for coming in very much.

Up next, battle on the bayou, man versus nature. Wetlands being rebuilt before the next storm hits Louisiana. See how they are doing it and what is at stake? Our "Planet in Peril" report, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Hurricane season starts Sunday and this year could be worse than normal. NOAA predicts up to 16 named storms and says a handful may turn into major hurricanes. Federal forecasters worry that some people could be caught unprepared lulled by two relatively quiet seasons; seasons they said were going to be bad.

Along the Gulf Coast, however, work is underway to curve the power of the hurricane and repair our "Planet in Peril." The latest now from Miles O'Brien.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the swamps of Louisiana, the water is murky and filled with menacing eyes. But folks here are not afraid of that. No, what they fear most is that by the time he grows up, it will all be gone.

CAPTAIN TOM BILLIOT, WESTWEGO SWAMP ADVENTURES: Some of this swamp here is 3,000 years old. When you go after this what it look like --

O'BRIEN: In the past 20 years, Captain Tom Billiot figures he has given 10,000 tours of the swamp just South of New Orleans. He is anything but a silent witness to its destruction.

CAPTAIN BILLIOT: In the last 50, 100 years, now the Gulf of Mexico is having its way with us and it is not nice.

O'BRIEN: The swamp is nature's flood protection and the human effort to tame the Mississippi river is at odds with that natural defense.

In the 80 years since they hemmed in the Mississippi with levies, Louisiana has lost enough marshland to cover the state of Delaware. The problem, the swamp needs a steady flow of sediment filled river water to stay healthy. The levies funnel the Mississippi straight into the Gulf bypassing the Delta.

JON PORTHOUSE, COASTAL SCIENTIST: We have to find a way to sustain that marsh by putting the river back in there, getting the sediments nutrients back into the flood plain where it used to be.

O'BRIEN: We dropped in on one effort to do just that. These barrier islands are about 100 miles Southwest of New Orleans.

BRAD MILLER, LOUISIANA DEPT. OF NATURAL RESOURCES: Back in 1974, a hurricane but a breach in this island and cut it in half.

O'BRIEN: And now they are trying to put it back together again by pumping in sand from the bottom of the Gulf.

BRAD MILLER, LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES: These islands are very important because they offer a buffer for hurricanes. They are more or less a speed bump when a storm comes in from off the Gulf and comes in this islands helps slow it down.

O'BRIEN: There are hundreds of islands like this that need repair. Spending the billions to fix them is part of the state's master plan to bring the Delta back to life. And so is this. This is one of ten places where is the Mississippi is diverted outside the levies and into nearby marshland.

CHUCK VILLARUBIA, LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES: The marsh is degrading. Now we are seeing the marsh starting to come back. This diversion helps by helping the marsh grow faster.

O'BRIEN: The state would like to double the number of these diversions. But sending all that water out of the channels might leave them too shallow for the big ships that ply this vital port. It means people here are going to face some tough choices to preserve their way of life.

CAPTAIN BILLIOT: They need to consolidate the authorities if any of us is going to keep any of it. We got to all work together. You got to give something to get something back.

O'BRIEN: And that means giving something back to nature. After trying to use brute force to control this mighty river, the experts now say they have no choice but to go with the flow.

Miles O'Brien, CNN, Westwego, Louisiana.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Our "Planet in Peril." Coming up, tornadoes hit the Midwest this holiday weekend with deadly results. We will get the latest in a live report.

Plus amazing images of one twister; take a look at this, taking aim, this video taken from a helicopter. We will show you the raw, powerful destruction next on "360."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We are keeping a close eye on this live shot out of Oklahoma. You can see the lightning, a lot of lightning, a remarkable amount. Dangerous weather is being reported in the town of Mangum, it's West of Oklahoma city. There is lightning. There also concerns of course of possible tornadoes.

We are watching this very closely. We will bring you any events as warranted. We're going to monitor the storm and bring you the latest from Oklahoma as well as Kansas, where a tornado watch remains in effect until midnight.

Look how frequent this lightning is; just unbelievable. Tornadoes took a deadly toll across the Midwest this weekend. And one twister killed six in Iowa. Another in Minnesota claimed the life of a 2-year-old child. Today, of course the victims were mourned, communities surveyed the damage.

We are used to seeing images of tornadoes captured from moving cars speeding fast. But we wanted to show you one of the tornadoes that touched down this weekend in Oklahoma. Now the pictures were taken from a helicopter. And there are some of the most dramatic images of a tornado's strength we have ever seen. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: It takes just a few seconds before our eyes, a funnel cloud turns into a tornado, touching down near Lacey, Oklahoma. You can see the vortex rotating wildly; the furious winds spinning across what appears to be an open field.

But look to the right. This unstoppable force of nature is about to strike a direct hit. And all Mason Dunn, the helicopter pilot for TV station KWTV, can do is watch.

MASON DUNN, KWTV HELICOPTER PILOT: Guys, there are some structures there. And I do not if that is house or whatever. There is a barn, several barns and it is going to looks like it is going to be in the path here very shortly.

COOPER: And then it happens.

DUNN: Oh, no.

COOPER: The tornado tears a massive pig farm apart, sending huge parts of the structure airborne, until there's nothing left but debris and ruins. As viewers were watching this video live, six farm workers were running for their lives.

MICK GILBERT, PIG FARMER: The rain just started pouring like crazy. And we turned and look to our left over here. And that's when we seen the tornado forming, all the kind of debris being thrown out. We heard glass breaking. The doors were rattling.

COOPER: Incredibly, despite the immense destruction, all six men were safe. And they weren't the only ones to make it out alive.

JOE POPPLEWELL, PIG FARMER: I expected to see a lot of them dead. But we walked around the barns, and at this point, we haven't found one yet.

COOPER: How powerful was the tornado? The helicopter pilot who shot this extraordinary video told CNN it easily could have killed them.

MASON DUNN, KWTV HELICOPTER PILOT: Basically, those tornadoes, I was about two miles away from. You'll notice the helicopter turning a lot. It starts kind of, you know, sucking you in, so to speak. And so you have to, you know, keep flying away from it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Unbelievable pictures out of Oklahoma. But by far the greatest destruction from this weekend's tornado outbreak was in Iowa. One of the hardest-hit areas is Parkersburg, where six people died, dozens were injured. This home video was taken as a huge tornado moved across the town.

Emily Price is a reporter with our Des Moines affiliate, KCCI, and has the latest on the devastation from Parkersburg.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EMILY PRICE, KCCI REPORTER: Anderson, about half the town of Parkersburg is destroyed tonight.

Take a look at this house behind me. It's one of about 200 homes here in town that have been leveled by the tornado that touched down last night around 5 p.m. Another 400 homes have at least some form of damage to them.

Four people died here in Parkersburg. Another two people died in nearby New Hartford.

And also, take a look at this. This is one of several hundred cars here in town damaged. Windows blown out because of the tornado that hit last night.

And also take a look at this, right across the street. The high school here in town; that is also destroyed. School was supposed to let out some time next week. Now they say they don't know what they're going to do.

And just down the road from the school, the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army have set up tents for people to come and get some food and water during the day.

Also, not far from here, a 100-year-old cemetery, quite a bit of damage to that, as well. This is where a lot of people would be coming this Memorial Day weekend. Instead, you can see heavy headstones have been overturned and only two flags remain. This is one Memorial Day people here will never forget.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: No doubt about that. KCCI's Emily Price joins us now live.

There's a curfew in place, Emily. Where are folks staying tonight? PRICE: Well, tonight, the American Red Cross was considering setting up an overnight shelter here. But they decided that there wasn't really much of a need. A lot of people are staying with family and friends tonight or in nearby hotels. So there is no overnight shelter here in Parkersburg tonight.

COOPER: How much warning did people get in Parkersburg about the tornado?

PRICE: Well, people here said they had about ten minutes' warning. Luckily, coincidentally, just about ten days ago, they put up a tornado siren here on the south side of town.

It used to be there was only a tornado siren on the north side of town, but people were realizing there was really a need for a siren on the south side of town here. So they found some federal money and just ten days ago, wouldn't you know, a tornado siren was put up here. And on the south side of town is exactly where this tornado hit.

COOPER: Well, that is incredibly lucky of them or smart thinking of them to put that up.

Emily Price, appreciate your reporting. Thanks.

Up next tonight, a soldier's struggle. He fought in Iraq, but when he needed help the Army punished him instead. Is America's military doing enough to help service members in need? We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Also ahead, a 747 literally splits in half during take-off. How'd you like to be on that flight? You're going to have to see it to believe it. We'll explain ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: On this Memorial Day, we honor the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, those who died in battle and those who died fighting their own private battles.

According to the Army, as many as 121 active duty soldiers committed suicide last year. That's an increase of 20 percent over the year before. So the question tonight, is enough being done to prevent more deaths?

Randi Kaye is "Keeping Them Honest" with the story of one soldier's struggle.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He grew up on Ft. Bragg, the son of a master sergeant. For Jason Scheuerman, joining the Army was the natural thing to do. He enlisted in 2004, a year later he was in Iraq.

In his first year there, his parents say a soldier from his unit was killed. Another committed suicide. This confident young man starts to unravel.

ANNE SCHEUERMAN, PFC. JASON SCHEUERMAN'S MOTHER: He said, "I'm seeing things, Mom." He goes, "I guess I'm seeing visions."

KAYE: Private Scheuerman's military file obtained by CNN shows a soldier struggling. He's depressed and suicidal. One fellow soldier says he saw Scheuerman put his rifle in his mouth several times.

On June 22, his platoon sergeant finds him out of touch with reality and recommends counseling. An Army chaplain advises, "Have his weapon and magazine taken from him immediately and send him for psychiatric evaluation."

A week later, this doctor's form shows signs of a nervous breakdown, depression, hopelessness. It asks, "Have you ever had any thoughts pertaining to the following?" He checks "killing yourself."

When somebody fills out a form saying that he's depressed, anxious, he's only sleeping three hours a night and has had thoughts of killing himself, what do you think should have been done?

CHRIS SCHEUERMAN, PFC. JASON SCHEUERMAN'S FATHER: He should have been on an airplane to Landstuhl, Germany, for the treatment that he needed.

KAYE: Early in July, Mrs. Scheuerman gets an e-mail from her son, which she interprets as a suicide note. She calls the Army, and two days later, Jason is back with a psychologist, denying he feels suicidal.

Despite it all, the psychologist writes, "Jason does not meet the criteria for any mental disorder. It is my opinion this soldier is capable of claiming mental illness in order to manipulate his command, shirk duty or avoid punishment."

C. SCHEUERMAN: I cannot fathom how my Army let my son down like that. His command had a duty to look out for his safety. They knew what was going on, and they failed him.

KAYE: "Keeping Them Honest," we asked the Army if Private Scheuerman's case was handled properly. Army officials said steps had been taken to reduce the risk of suicide and added, "Our prevention efforts do help soldiers and their families deal with the war-time challenges they face every day."

Would those efforts help this soldier? In the end, Private Scheuerman was pegged a phony, his behavior determined a hoax. Instead of getting help, he was threatened and punished, even humiliated in front of Iraqi soldiers by being forced to do pushups.

Chris Scheuerman says the Army took away his son's dignity, made him feel like a coward.

C. SCHEUERMAN: In a million years, I can't imagine this happening; that everyone who saw him, saw how he was suffering and failed to protect him, to help him. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So what would become of Private First Class Jason Scheuerman? Will he get the help he needs? Randi has the outcome of this one soldier's struggle.

And a little later, a frightening take-off. A cargo jet crashes, then splits in half. What happened to the people onboard, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Before the break, we introduced you to Private Jason Scheuerman. Within months of being deployed to Iraq, he began showing signs of extreme depression. He told Army officials he'd had a nervous breakdown, considered suicide. A fellow soldier said he'd seen Private Scheuerman put a gun to his mouth, inside his mouth, several times.

So did the Army do enough to help this young man? Here's Randi Kaye, "Keeping Them Honest."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: In late June of 2005, Private Jason Scheuerman is under severe stress. The company chaplain says he needs professional help. Instead, he's punished, cut off from his family, denied phone and computer privileges.

C. SCHEUERMAN: The last thing you do to someone you know who is suicidal is cut off their support group.

KAYE: Seven months after he's deployed to Iraq, Private Scheuerman is punished yet again, for failing to secure his weapon. He's given two weeks of extra duty and told he may face a court- martial and sodomy in military prison.

That night, in the closet of his barracks, he puts the rifle into his mouth again. This time he pulls the trigger.

C. SCHEUERMAN: They said, "Mr. Scheuerman, I'm sorry to inform you that your son died in Iraq."

KAYE: Did they ever indicate that it was suicide?

C. SCHEUERMAN: After a while, they told me it appeared to be from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

KAYE: Did you ask if there was a suicide note?

C. SCHEUERMAN: Yes, I did.

KAYE: And what was the response?

C. SCHEUERMAN: They said no.

KAYE: Yet more than a year later, a suicide note written by Jason arrived in his parent's mailbox. It was mixed in with hundreds of documents they had especially requested from the government. Nobody had told them it had been found, tacked to the wall of the closet where Jason had shot himself.

C. SCHEUERMAN: "Maybe finally I can get rid of these demons. Maybe finally I can get some peace. Scheuerman."

A. SCHEUERMAN: It just -- every day it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart, because he was reaching out for help.

KAYE: "Keeping Them Honest," we asked the Army why it didn't protect Jason Scheuerman from himself. The Army refused to answer questions but in a statement told us, "The loss of any member of the Army family is a tragedy. And suicide prevention is a top priority for the U.S. Army."

The statement did not address why a soldier who'd been recommended for psychological treatment twice and was seen putting a gun in his mouth was punished rather than pulled from combat.

Two investigations by the Army found no evidence of negligence, though one said there was a lack of communication among those concerned about Scheuerman. The Army inspector general had launched a third investigation, and the Army has updated its guidelines for mental-health screening.

Jason's dad still teaches Army medics at Ft. Bragg.

How do you feel speaking out against the Army which you spent your entire life serving?

C. SCHEUERMAN: Right is right and wrong is wrong. And what happened to my son was wrong. No one was held accountable.

KAYE: Private First Class Jason Scheuerman is buried about a mile from where he grew up on Ft. Bragg.

C. SCHEUERMAN: When I go there, I see the little boy. It's hard.

KAYE: One soldier: casualty of war or casualty of a military struggling with the stress of war?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: It's unbelievable that, first of all, they didn't tell him it was suicide for quite a while and then that they -- they didn't even tell them about the existence of this note and they just send it in a packet with other information.

KAYE: Right, Anderson. The family had actually requested documents because they were very upset, obviously, about what happened. So they requested all of the documents related to his case, and all of a sudden a year later, in these documents, mixed in with them, is the suicide note.

COOPER: Is there any sign that things are getting better, that the Army is being more careful?

KAYE: There's still plenty of problems on the battlefield. Last year 2,100 soldiers attempted suicide. That's six times the rate from before the war.

Part of the reason this is happening is because, as you know, the military is stretched thin. There's a lot of pressure to increase the ranks, a lot of pressure on recruiters. And so a lot of these guys who may have some mental instability or mental illness are being allowed to remain on the battlefield.

Some sign, though, that there is going to be some improvement: new legislation now saying that, for any soldier who shows signs of mental illness on the battlefield, if it doesn't improve within two weeks, that soldier must be evacuated out of there, either home or to a hospital. So that is new.

COOPER: A courageous family, not only this young man who ultimately took his life, but courageous for -- for even saying he was having trouble. But for the father to come forward, even though he's working for the Army, and still continue to serve honorably is just -- is just remarkable.

KAYE: And he testifies in Washington for the cause. He's working now to try and put an end to all of it.

COOPER: Such a sad story. Randi appreciate it, thank you very much.

Hear from the troops themselves this Memorial Day in our special feedback from the frontlines on our blog. We asked them what it's like spending Memorial Day away from home and what this holiday now means to them. Go to cnn.com/360, follow the links.

Up next, President Bush's Memorial Day tribute to our troops.

And on a far different note, Robbie Knievel following in his dad's footsteps. His record-breaking jump our "Shot of the Day" coming up on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In a moment, Evel Knievel may be gone, but his son is flying high. I'm going to show you the jump Robbie Knievel made this Memorial Weekend to honor his famous father.

But first, Erica Hill joins us again with a "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

HILL: And Anderson, we begin with a dramatic plane accident in Belgium, where a cargo plane tried to take off at Brussels Airport, crashed at the end of a runway and then split in two yesterday. There's the final result you just saw. No one onboard the Boeing 747 was seriously injured.

President Bush marked this Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He said he was humbled and proud of the sacrifices made by the men and women in the armed services.

Memorial Day is also the start of the summer travel season but many of you may be driving a little less this year. AAA says the average price of gas has risen now for the 20th straight day to just under $4 a gallon. This time last year, by the way, it was about $3.32 a gallon.

And a memorable weekend for the producers of the new "Indiana Jones" movie. Paramount Pictures says the latest installment to the franchise took in $311 million globally, more than $151 million in the U.S. It is the second biggest Memorial Day opening ever.

COOPER: Wow.

HILL: How about that?

COOPER: Three hundred and one -- $300 million.

HILL: I didn't see it. But maybe...

COOPER: Neither did I. I wanted to. And I then I thought, battling the lines.

HILL: It's going to be there for a while.

COOPER: Yes, with the kids screaming.

HILL: Oy.

COOPER: Oy. Wait till it's on video.

All right, Erica. The moment I know you've been waiting for. Tonight's "Beat 360." Earlier, we put a picture on the 360 blog, we asked viewers to come up with a caption that's better than one of our own.

So here's tonight's photo, Senator Hillary Clinton toasting a cold one at Sabor Latino Restaurant and Bar in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Our staff winner, Sean. His entry: "Mental note: Change the name of this beer to 'La Presidenta' during my first 100 days in office."

COOPER: All right. Tonight's...

HILL: Beer bubbles.

HILL: Beer bubbles. Tonight's viewer winner is Frank, just submitted a few minutes ago. His caption: "When you want to be El Presidente so bad, you can taste it!"

HILL: Very clever, Frank?

COOPER: Very good job, Frank. Check out -- you truly did "Beat 360." Check out the other ideas at cnn.com/360. And feel free to play along.

HILL: Frank's life is complete now.

COOPER: That's right.

"The Shot" is next. Like father, like son. Robbie Knievel trying to do what no daredevil has done before, and he's got one of those fancy uniforms.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Time now for "The Shot." If you can find a better use of delivery trucks, let us know.

On Saturday, Robbie Knievel honored his dad, who died last year, by jumping over 24 delivery trucks. Check it out. Boom.

HILL: I'm amazed.

COOPER: Yes. Pretty impressive. And not only the trucks but then flaming jets of -- I don't know -- steam or something. Robbie's motorcycle was -- 200 feet in the air he jumped, traveling around 95 miles per hour. This was in King's Island in Ohio.

HILL: Not bad. You know, 33 years ago, Evel Knievel was in King's Island.

COOPER: I did not know that.

HILL: Well, here we go. The video, I believe, from that event. The classic star-studded white jumper, uniform, costume, whatever it may be called.

COOPER: Oy, oy.

HILL: Fourteen buses there.

COOPER: Wow.

HILL: Without breaking any bones. Not bad.

COOPER: Well, nothing in my mind -- I mean, those jumps are good, and both Evel and Robbie are impressive. But nothing beats the Fonz's jump.

HILL: Good call.

COOPER: Do you remember this dramatic moment?

HILL: Who could forget this?

COOPER: Sure.

HILL: Can we have a moment while we watch. COOPER: He was jumping over Arnold's chicken stand. Very dramatic.

HILL: Attempting any way. And?

COOPER: Yes! Yes. Well, actually, was he jumping over the chicken stand or did he fall into the chicken stand?

HILL: Look, he ran into the chicken stand.

COOPER: Yes. What was he jumping over? I couldn't see. Was it garbage cans?

HILL: I don't know. It was the Fonz. Does it matter?

COOPER: It doesn't, because frankly, in fourth grade, I went as Halloween -- as the Fonz.

HILL: OK. We're going to need those pictures.

COOPER: There are no pictures that exist. What's really sad is I put Vaseline in my hair because I thought that's what the Fonz did. You know, like I didn't realize it doesn't come out of your hair, that that's not what you use in hair. So for weeks I was ridiculed as a kid.

HILL: You had very shiny and greasy hair.

COOPER: Yes.

HILL: That was a fun fact, Anderson Cooper. Thank you.

COOPER: Put it on YouTube, no doubt.

You can see all the most recent shots on -- have at it -- on our Web site, cnn.com/360. Goodness knows what kind of video you can make out of that.

If you're watching around the world, "CNN Today" is next. Here in America, "Larry King" is up next.

Thanks for watching. Hope you had a great weekend. I'll see you tomorrow night.