Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Max Cleland, who served during Vietnam and later in Congress.
At 18, Max began as a student at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida. There, he joined the school’s Reserve Officer Training Corps in anticipation of joining the 1st Air Cavalry Division as a helicopter pilot. For the first semester of his senior year in college, Max attended American University in Washington DC, where he developed a fascination with politics. He then applied and was accepted to Emory Graduate School, where he studied American History.
On Oct. 18, 1965, Max enlisted in the United States Army. Upon enlisting, Max received microwave radio officer training at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and completed jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia. After completing his training, Max volunteered for the Signal Corps. Max was then assigned as a platoon leader for the 68th Signal Battalion and was responsible for maintaining satellite communications.
While Max was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, the 11th Air Assault Test Division was stationed across the street, where they were testing the feasibility of using helicopters to create an air-infantry division. The 11th Air Assault Test Division ultimately proved successful and became the airborne 1st Cavalry Division.
After spending some time with the Signal Corps, Max volunteered to serve in Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division, and on May 31, 1967, Max was deployed to Vietnam with the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. After arriving at the Long Binh Post outside of Saigon, Max was flown by C-130 to the 1st Cavalry Division in the central highlands of Vietnam. There, he spent approximately six months in the village of An Khe and was responsible for maintaining and broadcasting radio communications.
On February 1, 1968, North Vietnamese forces launched a massive counterattack against U.S. forces in an event known as the Tet Offensive. Max and his division were caught in the path of North Vietnamese forces moving south towards Da Nang. As a result, the 1st Cavalry suffered heavy losses during the offensive. In March 1968, Max volunteered to participate in Operation Pegasus, where U.S. forces sought to defend the base at Khe Sanh. On April 8, 1968, Max and his fellow U.S. forces managed to break the siege.
Later that day, Max went to pick up a grenade he thought had fallen out of his jacket. Unknown to Max, the pin had fallen out. The explosion resulted in Max losing both his legs and his right forearm.
Max went on to recover and was discharged in 1968 at the rank of captain. For Actions during his service, Max was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with “V” Device and the Soldier’s Medal. After leaving the Army, Max began a successful political career, where he held many notable positions including secretary of state of Georgia, U.S. senator and administrator of the Veterans Administration. Max has spent much of his life advocating for Veteran causes in both his private and public life.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Graphic designer: Kimber Garland
Editor: Vincent Tran
Fact checker: Jordan Gossett