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Max Cleland, ex-Georgia senator who lost three limbs in Vietnam, dies aged 79 | Democrats

Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam however went on to be a US senator from Georgia, died on Tuesday. He was 79.

Cleland died at his dwelling in Atlanta from congestive coronary heart failure, his private assistant Linda Dean stated.

The Democrat served one time period in the Senate, dropping a 2002 re-election bid to the Republican Saxby Chambliss. Cleland was additionally administrator of the US Veterans Administration, Georgia secretary of state and a Georgia state senator.

Cleland was a US military captain in Vietnam when he lost an arm and two legs whereas choosing up a grenade in 1968. For years, he blamed himself for dropping the grenade. He realized in 1999 that one other soldier dropped it.

Cleland’s loss in the Senate generated enduring controversy, after the Chambliss marketing campaign aired a industrial that displayed photographs of (*79*) bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and questioned Cleland’s dedication to protection and homeland safety. The Arizona senator John McCain, one other Vietnam veteran, was amongst these who condemned the transfer by a fellow Republican.


Cleland led the United States Veterans Administration, appointed in 1977 by Jimmy Carter and holding the publish till 1981. Cleland served in the Georgia senate from 1971 to 1975 and was Georgia secretary of state from 1983 till 1996.

“Max Cleland was one of the most remarkable persons I have ever met in my life,“ former Georgia governor and fellow Democrat Roy Barnes said. “His sacrifice and service will long be remembered as best of what it is to be a Georgian and an American. I will miss his laughter and good cheer; his optimism in the face of tragedy and his courage to persevere.”

A local of Lithonia, Cleland suffered grievous accidents on 8 April 1968 close to Khe Sanh, as he reached for the grenade he thought had fallen from his belt when he jumped from a helicopter.

“When my eyes cleared I looked at my right hand. It was gone. Nothing but a splintered white bone protruded from my shredded elbow,” Cleland wrote in a 1980 memoir, Strong on the Broken Places.


Cleland wrote that he begged a health care provider to save lots of one in every of his legs, however there wasn’t sufficient left.

“What poured salt into my wounds was the possible knowledge that it could have been my grenade,” he stated in a 1999 interview. Later that yr, former Marine Cpl David Lloyd, who stated he was one of many first to achieve Cleland, stated he handled one other soldier who was sobbing and saying, “It was my grenade, it was my grenade.”

Before Vietnam, Cleland was an completed school swimmer and basketball participant starting to develop an curiosity in politics. Returning dwelling a triple amputee, he “sat in my mother and daddy’s living room and took stock in my life”, he stated in 2002.

Max Cleland in 2004.
Max Cleland in 2004. Photograph: Ed Reinke/AP

“No job. No hope of a job. No offer of a job. No girlfriend. No apartment. No car. And I said, ‘This is a great time to run for the state senate.”’


He received a state senate seat, a part of a cadre of younger senators that included Barnes, the longer term governor. After a failed 1974 marketing campaign for lieutenant governor and his stint heading the VA, Cleland was elected as secretary of state in 1982.

A dozen years later, he opted to hunt the seat of the retiring US senator Sam Nunn, however served just one time period. Polls confirmed he had been main in his re-election effort earlier than the devastating Chambliss advert.

“Accusing me of being soft on homeland defense and Osama bin Laden is the most vicious exploitation of a national tragedy and attempt at character assassination I have ever witnessed,” Cleland stated on the time.

Senator Jon Ossoff, the primary Democrat to carry the seat since Cleland’s defeat, known as him “a hero, a patriot, a public servant, and a friend”.

Cleland voted to authorize George W Bush’s plan to go to battle in Iraq however later stated he regretted it, changing into a fierce critic of Bush’s Iraq coverage and likening American involvement to Vietnam.

H Wayne Howell, Cleland’s longtime deputy secretary of state and chief of employees in the Senate, stated Cleland voted for the Iraq battle solely after demanding modifications.

“He never asked me to do anything that was not absolutely right,” Howell stated, saying service to nation transcended partisanship with Cleland. “He probably had more Republican senator friends up there than he had Democrats.”

Cleland was a director of the Export-Import Bank, and was appointed by Barack Obama to be secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission.

In his memoir, he stated that by means of crises and defeats, “I have learned that it is possible to become strong at the broken places.”


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