Joseph Maxwell "Max" Cleland was born in Atlanta, Georgia on August 24, 1942. He grew up in Lithonia, Georgia and graduated from Stetson University in 1964; he received a Master's degree from Emory University in 1968.
Max Cleland, who served in the Army from 1965 to 1968, volunteered from service in Vietnam as a young officer in 1967. Max served with the Army's 1st Air Cavalry Division. As a signal officer, he was involved in every major battle fought by the Cavalry in 1967, including major battles in Hue, Quang-Tri and Dong-Ha, as well as being part of the relief force rescuing 5,000 Marines at an isolated Marine base called Khe Sanh.
On April 8, 1968, while getting out of a helicopter with his radio team to set up a position east of Khe Sanh for his battalion, Max was wounded by a grenade accidentally dropped by one of his troops. Max was evacuated to an Army field hospital where he fought for his life having lost both legs and his right arm in the grenade explosion. After five hours of surgery and forty-two pints of blood, Max's life was saved. He was eventually flown to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC where he began his new life as a triple amputee.
After a long recovery and rehabilitation, Max began a career in politics. He first served as a member of the Georgia state senate (1971-1975) and then worked as a consultant to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and as a professional Senate staff member until 1977. He was appointed Administrator of the United States Veterans Administration by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 and served until 1981.
Returning to his home state, Max became Georgia Secretary of State (1982-1996) and was subsequently elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate in 1996, serving from January 7, 1997 to January 3, 2003. After leaving the Senate, Max served on the Board of Directors for the Export-Import Bank of the United States; he also served on the 9-11 Commission that explored the terrorist attacks on the United States.
In June 2009, Max received a presidential appointment from President Obama as Secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission. The Commission, established by Congress in 1923, serves as the guardian of America's overseas commemorative cemeteries and memorials.
The Stetson University duPont-Ball Library is pleased to hold in our Archives more than 800 pieces of Max Cleland's personal memorabilia, including items from his time in Vietnam, his time in the U.S. Senate and other political offices, and much more. Specifically included are items from his government offices, items from campaigns, plaques, awards, DVDs, CDs, letters from U.S. presidents and prominent government officials, and more than 5,000 photos, many of them autographed. The collection was acquired in 2007. See also Cleland video clips and audio clips from Vietnam. The Stetson library also holds Max's three books, Strong at the Broken Places, Going for the Max!, and Heart of a Patriot.
Max Cleland's official Senatorial papers and memorabilia are held by the University of Georgia's Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies. His Veterans Administration papers are held by the Carter Center.
Please ask to see our Politicos Room that holds some of the Cleland Collection.