Joseph Maxwell Cleland, the only child of a working-class family, was born in Atlanta on August 24, 1942. He grew up in Lithonia and attended Lithona high School. While pursuing a career in politics, he earned a B.A. from Stetson University in Florida in 1964. He continued his education at Emory University, eventually earning a master’s degree in history in 1968.Cleland also served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for valor in combat. From 1971 to 1975, Cleland served in the Georgia State Senate where he became an advocate to veterans. Cleland also became the administrator of the United States Veterans Administration under former President Jimmy Carter, (also a Georgian) from 1977 to 1981. After, he served and Secretary of the State of Georgia for 14 years(1982-1996). In 1996, Cleland was elected to the United States Senate where he served until 2003. Soon after, Cleland was originally appointed to serve on the 9/11 Commission but resigned shortly after being appointed to the Board of Directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. In 2004, he went on to support Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who eventually won the Democratic nomination. Cleland attended numerous campaign events for Kerry; including introducing him at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In 2007, Cleland donated a large amount of memorabilia to Stetson University’s Library, including 400+ memorabilia items, more than 4,000 photos and a host of CD’s and DVD videos and films.
During the master’s program, Cleland entered the army to eventually be deployed to Vietnam as a Captain. On April 8, 1968, as Cleland was given the mission to go to the top of Hill 471 to set up a radio relay site. When the helicopter dropped him and the two soldiers off with him, one of the soldiers dropped a grenade. Cleland, thinking it was his grenade, turned to pick it up and it went off, severing his right arm, and his right leg instantly. Later his left leg was amputated shortly after from severe wounds. He was awarded the Silver Star the Bronze Star and the Soldier’s Medal , and he underwent many months of rehabilitation in army hospitals.
Max Cleland is an inspiration of greatness to people for his dedicated public service work throughout such adversaries and tragedy. He served in the Legislative and Executive branches of government, at both the state and federal levels during his 32-year-political career. Making him the first person to ever receive more than 1 million votes in a Georgia election.