Max Cleland

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Joseph Maxwell "Max" Cleland (1942- ) served as a Democratic U.S. Senator from the state of Georgia, 1997-2003. [1]


Records and Controversies

Iraq War

Cleland voted for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq in Oct. 2002.

For more information see the chart of U.S. Senate votes on the Iraq War.


  • "The president has declared 'major combat over' and sent a message to every terrorist, 'Bring them on.' As a result, he has lost more people in his war than his father did in his and there is no end in sight [...] Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn't go when you had the chance." Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/18/03.

According to American University's web site, "former U.S. Senator Max Cleland, who got his start in Washington by participating in American University's Washington Semester program in 1963 as a student, has returned as a Distinguished Adjunct Professor to AU's Washington Semester Program, and to serve as a Fellow in AU's Center for Congressional & Presidential Studies." [2]

In 2002, "Cleland was appointed to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. The Commission [is tasked with examining] the facts and causes relating to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and will report on its findings, conclusions, and recommendations to prevent future acts of terrorism. Cleland is an advocate for a National Division for Bio-terrorism Readiness and Response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta." [3]



  • Lithonia (GA) High School, 1960
  • Stetson University, Deland, FL, 1964; majored in History; holds Honorary Doctorate
  • Emory University, Masters Degree in American History, 1965; holds Honorary Doctorate

Military Service


  • Army ROTC; Stetson University
  • U.S. Army 1965-1968; Commisioned Second Lieutenant and promoted to Captain 1968
  • Airborne, Ft. Benning, Georgia
  • Aide de Camp, Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey
  • Volunteered for duty in Vietnam in 1967
  • Wounded in grenade explosion April 8, 1968 (lost both legs and right arm)
  • Recovered from injuries "in various Army and Veterans Administration hospitals"
  • Awarded Bronze Star and Silver Star

"Cleland volunteered as communications officer for 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry, which had been chosen for Operation Pegasus - the relief of Khe Sanh - in April 1968. CPT Cleland was on a mountaintop with his Signal team to set up a radio relay when he lost his legs and right arm to a grenade explosion. For Khe Sanh he received the Bronze Star for meritorious service and Silver Star for gallantry in action." [8]

The awards of star medals appear unrelated to the grenade explosion accident which caused hs injuries. The Silver Star Medal Citation references action on 4 April. The grenade explosion was on 8 April.

Silver Star Medal Citation[9]

Captain Cleland distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous action on 4 April 1968 … during an enemy attack near Khe Sanh.
When the battalion command post came under a heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack, Captain Cleland, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. He then assisted in moving the injured personnel to covered positions.
Continuing to expose himself, Captain Cleland organized his men into a work party to repair the battalion communications equipment, which had been damaged by enemy fire.
His gallant action is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

Grenade Explosion Accident. In his own words, [10]

On April 8, 1968, I volunteered for one last mission. The helicopter moved in low. The troops jumped out with M16 rifles in hand as we crouched low to the ground to avoid the helicopter blades. Then I saw the grenade. It was where the chopper had lifted off. It must be mine, I thought. Grenades had fallen off my web gear before. Shifting the M16 to my left hand and holding it behind me, I bent down to pick up the grenade. A blinding explosion threw me backwards.

Veterans Affairs

"In 1969, Cleland was asked to testify before the United States Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to describe the difficulties veterans were experiencing returning home from Vietnam. The next year, Cleland was elected to the Georgia State Senate, thus beginning a 33-year career in public service. As the youngest member of the Georgia Senate at the age of 28, he wrote the state law making public facilities in the state accessible to the elderly and the handicapped." [11]

Political Career

  • Georgia State Senate, 1971-1975 [12]

In 1975, Cleland was hired to work for the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Two years later, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to head the U.S. Veterans Administration. As the youngest ever VA Administrator and the first Vietnam veteran to head the agency, Cleland instituted the revolutionary 'Vets Center' program which, for the first time, offered psychological counseling to combat veterans to heal the emotional wounds of war. There are now more than 200 Vets Centers across the country offering support to combat and non-combat veterans and their families." [13]

  • Consultant to Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs 1975
  • Professional Senate staff member 1975-1977
  • Administrator of United States Veterans Administration 1977-1981

"In 1982, Georgia voters elected him Secretary of State, the youngest in Georgia?s history. In that position, Cleland fought for tougher campaign finance laws and cracked down on securities and telemarketing fraud. In 1995, he implemented the National Voter Registration Act ('motor voter') in Georgia, which added almost one million new voters to the rolls. In 1995, he resigned his position as Secretary of State to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Senator Sam Nunn. Despite being out-spent three to one, Cleland won the race and was sworn-in to the United States Senate in 1997." [14]

  • Secretary of State 1982-1996
  • United States Senate 1996; served January 7, 1997 to January 3, 2003
  • Unsuccessful candidate for reelection November 4, 2002

Political Slanderings

Max Cleland lost the 2002 general election to Republican Saxby Chambliss. A key element in that loss was a negative ad that challenged Cleland's votes in Congress on the formation of the Department of Homeland Security.

The text of the ad is as follows:

"As America faces terrorists and extremist dictators, Max Cleland runs television ads claiming he has the courage to lead.
"He says he supports President Bush at every opportunity, but that's not the truth."
"Since July, Max Cleland voted against President Bush's vital homeland security efforts 11 times."
"But the record proves, Max Cleland is just misleading."

The issue in 2002 was civil service protections for Homeland Security employees, which Bush opposed and Cleland supported. The ad failed to point out that Cleland supported the creation of a Department of Homeland Security before Bush did. Cleland originally co-sponsored the enabling legislation and eventually supported it, but as the bill moved through Congress, he cast a number of votes against it in hopes of getting a better bill. The Republican attack ads made it look as though Cleland was voting against Homeland Security itself, and one TV ad morphed Cleland's face into Saddam Hussein's while suggesting that Cleland was indifferent to the safety of the American people. This ad was so disgusting that Republican Sens. Hagel and McCain both protested it]

In February 2004, "vitriolic right-wing ideologue" Ann Coulter wrote that Cleland should not be referred to as a war hero, as he had lost his limbs in a routine non-combat misssion. Regardless of the exact circumstances of the explosion, or its non-relation to the prior battles for which the stars were given, it is worth noting that Cleland was awarded a Silver Star "for gallantry in action" at the battle of Khe Sanh.

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