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Max Cleland

In office
January 7, 1997 – January 3, 2003
Preceded by Sam Nunn
Succeeded by C. Saxby Chambliss

In office
1977 – 1981
President Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Richard L. Roudebush
Succeeded by Robert P. Nimmo

Born August 24, 1942 (1942-08-24) (age 67)
Atlanta, Georgia
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Stetson University
Emory University
Religion Methodist
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1965-1968
Rank Captain
Unit 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division
Battles/wars Vietnam War
Awards Silver Star
Bronze Star
Purple Heart

Joseph Maxwell Cleland (born August 24, 1942) is an American politician from Georgia. Cleland, a Democrat, is a disabled US Army veteran of the Vietnam War, a recipient of the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for valorous action in combat, a former U.S. Senator, and a critic of the Bush Administration. From 2003 to 2007, he served on the Board of Directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, a presidentially appointed position.[1][2] He is currently the secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission.

As of 2009 Cleland is the last Democrat from Georgia to serve a full term in the United States Senate.




Early life and military service

Cleland was born in Atlanta, Georgia on August 24, 1942. He grew up in Lithonia and graduated from Stetson University, class of 1964, where he was a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity. He went on to receive a Master's degree from Emory University.

Cleland then served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War, attaining the rank of Captain. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for valorous action in combat, including during the Battle of Khe Sanh on April 4, 1968.

On April 8, 1968, Captain Cleland was the Battalion Signal Officer for the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during the Battle of Khe Sanh.[3]

On April 8, with a month left in his tour, Cleland was ordered to set up a radio relay station on a nearby hill. A helicopter flew him and two soldiers to the treeless top of Hill 471, east of Khe Sanh. Cleland knew some of the soldiers camped there from Operation Pegasus. He told the pilot he was going to stay a while and maybe have a few beers with friends.
When the helicopter landed, Cleland jumped out, followed by the two soldiers. They ducked beneath the rotors and turned to watch the liftoff. Cleland reached down to pick up a grenade he believed had popped off his flak jacket. It exploded, and the blast slammed him backward, shredding both his legs and one arm.
David Lloyd was a 19-year-old enlisted Marine, son of a Baltimore, Maryland ship worker, who went to Vietnam because he "wanted to kill Communists."
On that day, he was in a mortar pit on a hill near Khe Sanh when he heard the explosion. Fragments bounced off his flak jacket. He ran to the injured Cleland, saying 'Hold on there, captain, the chopper will be here in a minute.'
Lloyd took off his web belt and tied it around one of Cleland's shredded legs. When the medics arrived, he left to help another injured soldier — one of the two who had gotten off the helicopter with Cleland.
That unnamed soldier was crying. 'It was mine,' he said, 'it was my grenade.'
According to Lloyd, the private had failed to take the extra precaution that experienced soldiers did when they grabbed M-26 grenades from the ammo box: bend the pins, or tape them in place, so they couldn't accidentally dislodge. This soldier had a flak jacket full of grenades with treacherously straight pins, Lloyd says. "He was a walking death trap."[4]

Due to the severity of his injuries, doctors amputated both of Cleland's legs above the knee and his right forearm.[5] He was 25 years old.

Georgia State Government

Cleland served from 1971 to 1975 in the Georgia Senate, and became an advocate for affairs relating to veterans. He was the administrator of the United States Veterans Administration under President Jimmy Carter, a fellow Georgian, from 1977 to 1981. He then served 14 years as Secretary of State of Georgia from 1982 to 1996, working closely with his future Senate colleague, Zell Miller.

According to an interview featurette with Jon Voight on the DVD of Coming Home (1978), Cleland also served during this time as a consultant on the Academy Award-winning drama set in a VA hospital in 1968.

U.S. Senate

Following the retirement of Sam Nunn, Cleland ran for the U.S. Senate in 1996 and won by just 30,000 votes over Republican Guy Millner. A third-party candidate, Libertarian John Cashin, garnered over 80,000 votes.

Cleland was viewed as a moderate in the Senate. Though he supported some Republican budgetary measures, and voted in favor of George W. Bush's 2001 tax-cut package, he was staunchly pro-choice and pro-environment. He voted against drilling in ANWR, and opposed Gale Norton's nomination as Secretary of the Interior in 2001. His record on national defense and homeland security was more centrist. He voted to federalize airport security after 9/11, and supported the war on terror. Cleland was strongly pro-free trade, voting to normalize trade relations with Vietnam, to make China's NTR status permanent, and to extend free trade to Andean nations.[6]

Vote for the Iraq War authorization

Cleland was one of the 29 Senate Democrats who backed the authorization to go to war in Iraq. He later stated he had misgivings about the Bush administration's stance, but said he felt pressure in his tight Senate race to go along with it. In 2005, he said "it was obvious that if I voted against the resolution that I would be dead meat in the race, just handing them in a victory." He characterized his vote for war as "the worst vote I cast."[7]

Defeat for re-election

In 2002, Cleland lost his bid for a second Senate term to Representative Saxby Chambliss. Supporters blamed a Chambliss TV ad featuring the likenesses of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, while criticizing Cleland's votes against homeland security measures.[8] The ad, which Cleland supporters claimed questioned the senator's patriotism,[9] was removed after protests from prominent politicians including Republicans like John McCain and Chuck Hagel.[10] Chambliss supporters claimed the ad didn't question Cleland's patriotism, but rather his judgment.[9][11]

Post-Senate career

Cleland was originally appointed to serve on the 9/11 Commission but resigned shortly after, having been appointed to the Board of directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. Prior to his resignation, he claimed that the Bush administration was "stonewalling" and blocking the committee's access to key documents and witnesses.[12]

During his time away from politics, Cleland taught at American University.

In 2003, Cleland began working for the 2004 presidential campaign of Massachusetts senator John Kerry, also a Vietnam veteran; Kerry went on to win the Democratic nomination. Cleland often appeared at campaign events with Kerry, and was considered by many to be one of his most important surrogates, partly as a symbol of the sacrifices made by soldiers for wars. He went to Bush's Texas ranch to deliver a swift boat ad complaint, but the event failed to have much impact. On July 29, 2004, Cleland introduced Kerry with a speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Cleland's official Senatorial papers are held by the University of Georgia's Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies. His Veterans Administration papers are held in the Carter Center. In 2007, Max Cleland donated a large collection of Vietnam and personal political memorabilia to the library of his alma mater Stetson University. The Cleland Collection includes more than 500 memorabilia items, more than 4,500 photos, and hundreds of CDs, DVDs, videos, and films.

On May 21, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Cleland to serve as the next Secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission.[13]


  • "Heart of a Patriot - How I Found The Courage To Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed, and Karl Rove," by Max Cleland, with Ben Raines (Simon and Schuster, 2009) ISBN 978-1-4391-2605-9
  • Odysseus in America by Jonathan Shay, Max Cleland, John S. McCain (Scribner, November 2002) ISBN 0-7432-1156-1
  • Strong at the Broken Places by Max Cleland (Longstreet Press, updated edition, October 2000) ISBN 1-56352-633-6
  • Going for the Max!: 12 Principles for Living Life to the Fullest by Max Cleland (Broadman & Holman, September 2000) ISBN 0-8054-2021-5
  • Controlled Substances Laws of Georgia: Code Title 16-13 by Max Cleland (State Examining Boards, Georgia State Board of Pharmacy. 1992) ISBN B0006QLGOM

Electoral history

Georgia Senator (Class II): Results 1996–2002[14]
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1996 Max Cleland 1,103,993 49% Guy W. Millner 1,073,969 48% John Gregory Cashin Libertarian 81,262 4%
2002 Max Cleland 932,422 46% Saxby Chambliss 1,071,352 53% Claude Sandy Thomas Libertarian 27,830 1%


  1. ^ Export-Import Bank of the United States (2003-12-16). "Max Cleland Joins Import-Export Bank Board of Directors". Press release. Retrieved 2007-08-20.  
  2. ^ "Senate Approves Farrell for Import-Export Bank Post". Westport 2007-08-03. Retrieved 2007-08-20.  
  3. ^ "12th Cavalry Regiment - Vietnam War". Retrieved 11-10-2008.  
  4. ^ Thompson, Neal. "30 Years of Self-Loathing, and Then, Finally, the Truth." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel December 5, 1999: 1. Find Articles. October 11, 2006.
  5. ^ "Max Cleland." Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, Book IV. Gale Group, 2000.
  6. ^ Max Cleland on the Issues
  7. ^ Fiasco, by Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, July 25, 2006
  8. ^ Chambliss Ad (Cleland), You Tube, August 25, 2006
  9. ^ a b The Democrats' favorite victim
  10. ^ [1], Carlson attempted to downplay Republican attacks on Cleland — Media Matters, July 30, 2004
  11. ^ Coulter, Ann (December 31, 2008). "Teaching Democrats New Tricks". Retrieved 2009-01-23.  
  12. ^ Shenon, Philip (December 5, 2003). "Ex-Senator Will Soon Quit 9/11 Panel, Leaving Gap for Victims' Advocates". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-18.  
  13. ^ The White House (May 21, 2009). "President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts". Press release. Retrieved 2009-05-24.  
  14. ^ "Election Statistics". Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Retrieved 2007-08-08.  

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
David Poythress
Secretary of State of Georgia
Succeeded by
Lewis Massey
United States Senate
Preceded by
Sam Nunn
United States Senator (Class 2) from Georgia
Served alongside: Paul Coverdell, Zell Miller
Succeeded by
Saxby Chambliss


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