“Max Cleland Alive Day” set for April 19 at UGA

Athens, Ga. – “Coming Home Then & Now” is the theme of the April 19 Max Cleland Alive Day, the first in a planned annual program series focused on exploring perspectives and issues related to the U.S. veteran, subjects of primary and passionate concern to Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and longtime Georgia public servant.

Sponsored by the University of Georgia’s Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, which houses Cleland’s political papers and memorabilia, Max Cleland Alive Day commemorates the day in April 1968 when a grenade exploded, causing the loss of both legs and his right arm.

The program will begin at 4 p.m. in Master’s Hall of the Georgia Center with the presentation of the Alive Day Award, which honors Cleland’s strength and courage in overcoming these life-altering injuries by recognizing similar experiences of servicemen and women and those who have worked to support them. After the award presentation there will be a screening of the acclaimed documentary, “Strong at the Broken Places,” followed by a discussion and a reception.

Following Cleland’s release from the Army, he returned to Georgia and became the youngest person elected to the Georgia Senate. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed him as U. S. Administrator of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, a position he held until 1981. Elected Georgia’s Secretary of State, he served until 1996 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Cleland has received numerous awards for his public service and served on the commission to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In addition to an autobiography, also called Strong at the Broken Places (1980), Cleland is the author of Going for the Max!: Twelve Principles for Living Life to the Fullest (1999).

James M. Mayer of the Department of Veterans Affairs will receive the first Alive Day Award. The annual award recognizes “personal victory that inspires others.” While serving as an infantryman in Vietnam, Mayer was wounded by a land mine explosion that left him a bilateral amputee. He has received numerous awards for his service to veterans. Mayer served as Cleland’s executive assistant when Cleland headed the VA and is credited with the idea of holding an “Alive Day.” Currently Mayer is the outreach coordinator for the VA’s Seamless Transition Office, assisting servicemen and women returning with service-related conditions.

“Strong at the Broken Places” compares the Vietnam and Iraq wars by pairing Cleland’s own story with those of grieving families and wounded survivors of the Iraq war whom Cleland interviews. This film focuses on the experiences and reflections of soldiers who have served in the Iraq war as well as those of their families. Cleland, who has made the cause of veterans his mission, introduces each story. The film is both informative and emotional, engaging both the hearts and minds of audiences and raising interest and awareness of what Cleland calls the “ground truth” of war itself.

“Whether we agree about a war, we as a nation must honor the warriors, both living and dead,” Cleland has said.

According to Sheryl Vogt, director of the Russell Library, “Cleland’s sentiment ties in to the late senator’s philosophy of, ‘If the flag is there, we are there.’ Richard B. Russell served on the Senate Armed Services Committee for 23 years and chaired it for 16. It was his job to oversee the well-being of our armed forces and that duty he took very seriously. While Russell opposed the Vietnam War, he was a strong supporter of our troops and had a deep personal concern for military personnel in the field. Cleland also served on the Senate Armed Services Committee.”

Cleland donated his career papers to the Russell Library when he left the U.S. Senate in 2002. Around 700 boxes of papers and historical materials document his work in the Georgia Senate, as head of Veterans Affairs for the nation, as Georgia Secretary of State, and as U.S. Senator. While the collection is not yet open for study, Vogt said, “We anticipate it will be a strong research collection, especially in the areas of state politics and policy, national defense and veterans’ affairs. Senator Cleland has a love of history and politics and has saved all his personal files. The collection is an excellent complement to the holdings of the Russell Library.”

The Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies serves as a center for research and study of the modern American political system with particular emphasis on the role of the U.S. Congress and on the dynamic relationships of local, state, national and international politics. The mission of the Russell Library is to collect, preserve and make available archival and manuscript materials of individuals and organizations that fully document Georgia’s modern (1900-present) political history, policy and culture. A part of this mission is to document the life and career of Sen. Richard B. Russell, the library’s namesake. The Russell Library is also dedicated to developing and presenting public programming and educational materials that facilitate and encourage research, raise public awareness of the Library and its collections and services, and provide learning opportunities for the communities it serves.