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Overview:

The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) oversees American cemeteries and war monuments, primarily on foreign soil. At the direction of eleven commissioners appointed by the president, the commission administers and maintains 24 overseas military cemeteries where almost 125,000 American servicemen, largely from World War I and the European Theater of World War II, are buried. The commission also maintains 25 monuments, memorials, and markers, and it has commemorated the names of more than 90,000 dead in Tablets of the Missing. The commission maintains a database of all soldiers buried in its cemeteries, which correspond to theaters of war in Mexico, the Philippines, Europe, North Africa, and Korea.

 

The ABMC’s budget request for FY 2013 is $58.4 million. In June 2009 the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported a series of financial irregularities—in violation of the Antideficiency Act—that it uncovered during a 2008 audit of the ABMC. The President appointed an oversight commission, whose eight members resolved the violation in July 2010.

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History:

In the wake of World War I, in which thousands of American soldiers perished on foreign soil, Congress and President Harding enacted and signed legislation forming the American Battle Monuments Commission. The ABMC was originally charged with honoring American armed forces by controlling the design and construction of overseas markers and monuments. President Harding appointed General of the Armies John J. Pershing to the commission upon its inception, and his fellow commissioners elected him chairman, a role in which he served until his death in 1948. Seven chairmen, all former generals, have served since then. 

 

The ABMC’s World War I commemorative program entailed the construction of nonsectarian chapels on each of eight World War I cemeteries, landscaping of those cemeteries, erecting a dozen monuments elsewhere throughout Europe, and constructing the WWI Allied Expeditionary Forces Memorial in Washington D.C. Amid this activity in 1934 an executive order gave the ABMC full responsibility over the administration of the eight World War I cemeteries and charged it with overseeing all future overseas military cemeteries. 

 

During the course of World War II, American soldiers were interred in a haphazard patchwork of burial grounds, and in 1947 the ABMC designated 14 sites for the establishment of permanent cemeteries. The World War II commemorative program entailed the construction of 14 military cemeteries, in addition to several monuments in the U.S. and on foreign soil. Most remains were transferred to the permanent cemeteries and the temporary sites were disestablished. However, families had the option of repatriating remains or letting them rest in their original burial places, in which case next of kin assumed responsibility for care of the grave.

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What it Does:

In addition to its primary responsibilities, the commission also oversees the design of both public and “private” overseas memorials—the latter defined as “a permanent war monument or marker commemorating the sacrifices of the American armed forces erected by any American person or entity.” With the exception of the East Coast Memorial (New York City), the West Coast Memorial (San Francisco), and the Honolulu Memorial, the commission is generally not responsible for memorials on U.S. soil or for memorials erected by any other government agency.  It is not affiliated with monuments or cemeteries on U.S. soil, including Arlington Cemetery, the Vietnam Memorial, or markers at battlefields such as Gettysburg. ABMC oversaw the planning and building of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, but handed over operation of the memorial to the National Park Service upon completion (see “Controversy” below). Memorials for American Expeditionary Forces and the Korean War, both in Washington D.C., were handled similarly. (Most domestic cemeteries are administered either by the Department of Veterans Affairs or the National Park Service.) 

 

The ABMC’s annual budget (click for the latest annual report [pdf]) funds the regular maintenance of the cemeteries and memorials under its care, including landscaping, repair and replacement of headstones, and occasional capital improvements, such as the Normandy Visitors Center. The majority of the commission’s budget is dedicated to wages for grounds crews. The commission retains architects as advisers and approves the design of facilities under its charge as well as private markers and memorials. It does not, however, contribute financial resources to private memorials. 

 

The ABMC incurs few capital costs because in most cases land for the cemeteries has been granted in perpetuity by the host countries free of charge or taxation with the stipulation that, except in the case of the Manila American Cemetery, they house only the remains of soldiers who died overseas during wartime. All overseas cemeteries are closed to new burials, with the rare exception of remains of Americans that are discovered and were previously unaccounted for. 

 

The commission is based in Washington D.C., and maintains regional offices in Paris and Rome. Its 24 cemeteries are located in eight countries: France (11), Belgium (3), England (2), Italy (2), Luxembourg, Netherlands, Tunisia, Mexico, Panama, and the Philippines. 

 

Current ABMC activities include the addition of an interpretive exhibit at Pointe du Hoc, Normandy, France—the precarious cliff-side site that was the target of a U.S. Rangers attack on D-Day, World War II, and current location of an ABMC memorial monument.

 

Programs

Cemeteries

Memorials

Databases and Burial Listings

AMBC maintains listings of all war dead buried in AMBC cemeteries as well as those of all servicemen killed in the Korean War and civilians killed during the construction of the Panama Canal. Databases also include listings of WWI and WWII soldiers listed missing in action who are memorialized on Tablets of the Missing and Vietnam MIAs who are listed at the Honolulu Memorial. 

 

From the Web Site of the American Battle Monuments Commission

Annual Reports

“Battle of Pointe du Hoc” Interactive

Burial Listings

Cemeteries

Commissioners

Contact Information

Data Base – Korean War

Data Base – World War I

Data Base – World War II

Employment

Events

FAQs

“Fields of Honor” - Video

“Hallowed Grounds” Documentary

History

Memorials

Normandy American Cemetery - Webcam

Normandy Campaign

Normandy Visitor Center

Organization

Publications

Services Available

World War II Memorial

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Where Does the Money Go:

The AMBC spent $255,794 on contractor services between 2002 and 2012, according to USAspending.gov. The top five types of services included ADP supplies ($107,188), education and training ($58,000), I.T. and telecommunications ($43,133), building construction ($20,504), and administrative support ($9,905).

 

The following are the top five recipients of AMBC contractor spending during that period, including the amount paid to each contractor and its percentage of overall contractor spending:

1. Dell Inc.                                                                  $96,621 (38%)           

2. Informa Group PLC                                               $58,000 (23%)           

3. Eagle Collaborative Computing Services Inc.         $43,133 (17%)           

4. Government Sales Associates, Inc.                         $20,000 (8%) 

5. Robert Half International Inc.                                 $9,905 (4%) 

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Controversies:

Although the American Battle Monuments Commission deals mainly with overseas facilities, it served as the lead agency in the establishment of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C. 

 

In conjunction with a separate 12-member Memorial Advisory Board convened by President Bill Clinton, the commission was directed to choose a design, and raise $100 million in donations for its construction (eventually $197 million was raised, $16 million of it from federal funds). The commission selected a design by architect Friedrich St. Florian and chose a site on the National Mall. The site was dedicated in 1995. Ground was broken in 2000, and the memorial was completed in 2004. 

 

Despite its unimpeachable mission, the World War II Memorial roused significant controversy and scorn from citizens and design experts for both its site and architecture. While proponents laud it for its prominence and heroic beaux arts design, opponents, including Save Our Mall, claimed that it cluttered the Mall and obscured the iconic view and formerly unobstructed view from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument. They also claimed that it took up space that had often been used for demonstrations and other public gatherings. 

 

Architectural critics have derided its design, specifically its heavy use of neoclassical elements such as marble pillars and arches. They contend that the iconography of classicism had long been corrupted and co-opted by Fascists, among others, and that its un-ironic use was inappropriately naïve and melodramatic. Supporters argue that the memorial maintains an appropriate degree of grandeur and that modern memorials such as the stark Vietnam Memorial are morbid, vacant, and unsettlingly abstract. Furthermore, the design competition roused suspicion for an unusually swift selection process. Backers of the memorial responded that time was of the essence in order to honor the nation’s dwindling ranks of living WWII veterans.

 

Although the AMBC was the lead agency in the memorial’s inception and construction, it no longer has any formal connection to it. The World War II Memorial is currently administered by the National Parks Service’s National Mall and Memorial Parks unit. 

The World War II Memorial Defaces a National Treasure (National Coalition to Save Our Mall)

A memorial to forget (by Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times)

Design for World War II Memorial Awaits Review, With Detractors Vocal (by Irvin Molotsky, New York Times)

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Former Directors:

Max Cleland

President Barack Obama’s choice to be in charge of the American Battle Monuments Commission is a grievously wounded Vietnam veteran, twice decorated for bravery. Former U.S. Senator Max Cleland, who lost his Senate seat in an ugly and controversial re-election campaign in 2002, is the first non-General and first Vietnam combat veteran to chair the commission. The Commission, which was established after World War I, administers, operates and maintains on foreign soil 24 permanent American burial grounds, and 25 separate memorials, monuments and markers, including three memorials in the United States. 

 

Born on August 24, 1942, in Atlanta, GA, Joseph Maxwell Cleland earned his BA in History from Stetson University in 1964 and his MA in History from Emory University in 1965. An ROTC cadet at Stetson, Cleland began active duty in the Army in 1965 as a Second Lieutenant, eventually rising to the rank of Captain. In 1967, he volunteered for duty in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for valorous action in combat, including during the Battle of Khe Sanh on April 4, 1968. On April 8, 1968, Cleland, a Battalion Signal Officer, was sent to set up a radio relay antenna on a hilltop. As he left the helicopter that had transported him and two other soldiers, he reached for a fallen grenade. It exploded and Cleland lost both his legs and half of his right arm. After spending 18 months at Army hospitals, Cleland was discharged and returned to Georgia. 

 

In 1969, Cleland testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to describe the difficulties veterans were experiencing returning home from Vietnam. The following year, Cleland began his lengthy career in public service by winning election to the Georgia State Senate. As the youngest member of the Georgia Senate at age 28, he wrote the state law making public facilities in the state accessible to the elderly and the handicapped. After four years in the State Senate, Cleland relocated to Washington D.C., to take a job with the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, where he worked from 1975 to 1977. While Cleland was in the State Senate, he formed a close political alliance and personal friendship with Georgia’s governor, Jimmy Carter. In 1977, when Carter took over as President of the United States, he appointed Cleland Administrator of the Veterans Administration, which was not a Cabinet-level department at that time. Cleland served in that position until 1981, when Republican Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in his bid for re-election. 

 

In 1982, Georgia voters elected Cleland Secretary of State, the youngest in the state’s history.  In that position, Cleland fought for tougher campaign finance laws and cracked down on securities and telemarketing fraud. In 1995, he implemented the National Voter Registration Act (“motor voter”) in Georgia, which added almost one million new voters to the rolls. In 1995, he resigned his position as Secretary of State to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Senator Sam Nunn. Despite being out-spent three to one, Cleland won the race, eking out a narrow 30,000-vote victory. He was sworn in to the United States Senate in 1997. While in the Senate, Cleland became known as a moderate Democrat, voting for President George W. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and the Iraq authorization of the use of force resolution in 2002, yet generally supportive of abortion rights and environmental issues. 

 

In 2002, Cleland ran for re-election against Republican Saxby Chambliss, who had avoided military service thanks to a football-related knee injury. Nonetheless, Chambliss aired a TV attack ad that challenged Cleland’s commitment to defending the United States against its enemies by accusing him of voting against the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Cleland had voted to give DHS employees civil service protection, which Bush opposed. The ad failed to point out that Cleland supported the creation of a Department of Homeland Security before Bush did, and that Cleland’s “no” votes were on procedural questions. The Republican attack ads made it look as though Cleland was voting against Homeland Security itself, and one TV ad morphed Cleland’s face into Saddam Hussein’s while suggesting that Cleland was indifferent to the safety of the American people. The ad was so controversial that Republican Senators Chuck Hagel and John McCain both protested, leading the Chambliss campaign to stop airing it. The race was consider a toss-up, but on Election Day, Chambliss won handily, 53%-47%. Nevertheless, Cleland’s loss raised him to martyr status within Democratic Party circles, where he has remained popular ever since. 

 

The year following his election loss, Cleland became increasingly concerned about the course of the War in Iraq, and wrote an influential and deeply critical article about the Bush administration’s war policies, which compared Iraq to Vietnam and concluded by taunting Bush, who did not serve in the military in Vietnam, with the words, “Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn’t go when you had the chance.” Cleland was appointed to the 9/11 Commission, but resigned because he believed its ability to do a thorough job was being hampered by what he called the Bush administration’s “Nixonian” efforts to conceal important evidence about the government’s failures in the weeks before the attacks. In 2004, Cleland was active in Democratic Senator John Kerry’s failed Presidential campaign. Also in his post-Senate years, Cleland became a distinguished adjunct professor at American University’s Washington Semester Program, where he also served as a fellow at the Center for Congressional & Presidential Studies. Between 2003 and 2007, Cleland served on the Board of the Export-Import Bank. Cleland has written three books: Strong at the Broken Places (2000), Going for the Max!: 12 Principles for Living Life to the Fullest (2000), and Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove (2009).

 

Biography at the New Georgia Encyclopedia

Veterans History Project Oral History Interviews (Library of Congress)

“The President Ought to be Ashamed”(interview with Eric Boehlert, Salon)

Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President (by Max Cleland, Salon)

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Comments

TobyDecker 1 year ago
Senator Cleland and I served in the Signal Corps. I was returning from VN, just after he deployed there. We both worked for Gen. Tom Rienzi at Ft. Monmouth. We exchanged Christmas cards for many years but lost contact with each other. I have followed his career and read his books, and found Heart of a Patriot, especially inspiring. Please forward this message to him...Thanks,
Mary A. Morris 2 years ago
My brother, Vivian F Brookshier, Infantry, Army Serial Number 37 539 693 was killed in WW II and buried in Rhone American Cemetery in Draguigan, France. Alain Dubreuil and his Wife has adopted his grave. They have gone to great ends to find any of his family and I am the only one left. I am planning a trip there next May to observe Memorial Day. I have a friend, Ed Duncan who will be helping me with travel. Is there any help you can offer us with this trip? Thank You, Mary Anne Morris
Rick Archer 4 years ago
would you have Shane Williams of the American Battle Monuments Commission please contact me? I have an important idea on a way to improve the Normandy American Memorial area. Thank you, Rick Archer
Joseph Vrtis 5 years ago
Mr. Cleland, Just returned from a visit to the Normandy American Cemetery with my son and brother-in-law, a fellow veteran like myself. We had the chance to interact with the Director of Operations, Shane Williams who could not have been more helpful and outgoing. Upon learning that we were veterans, he took charge and made sure we were involved in lower the flags at taps. This meant so much to all 3 of us and are very grateful to not only the men lying in rest there, but to Mr. Williams. Thank you Max, thank you Shane and God Bless America. Sincerely, Joseph Vrtis CDR, USN-R
Lou Fazio 6 years ago
The president was asking for God's help us win the war.He was not being malicious as some interrupt; hence, I think that "So help us God" should be added to the end of this speech. They've taken God out of the schools, what will be next if we don't start taking action now before it's too late. G
N. McDonald 6 years ago
are there any memorials to the servicemen of puerto rico that served in the panama canal zone during world war i? if so, where is it? i am interested in visiting such a memorial or museum if one exists? where could i find information about historic photos of puerto ricans serving for the first time for the united states? what encampment did these service men stay at while serving for the united states for the first time? where is the documentation and commemoration for this fact?
Ted Summerford 6 years ago
within the past couple years, in the town of mt pleasant, we created a war memorial to all those from our area who have fought and died, in any conflict, for our country. one of our elected officials has proposed to have the pow/mia flag flown at this momument all the time...much like the us flag. i am of the opinion that this isn't proper in that this flag should only be flown on certain, designated occasions. can you provide me with the ruling or regulatory guidelines for this ...
Barbara Karas 7 years ago
this message is for max cleland, who i am trying to contact. please tell him that his good friend, clara embs has passed away at the age of 95. funeral is 9/22/11 at skradski boyce funeral home in escanaba mi their web site offers an area for tributes my number is 906-474-5060 niece barb

Leave a comment

Founded: 1923, by act of Congress (36 U.S.C., Chapter 21) as an agency of the Executive Branch.
Annual Budget: $58.4 million (FY 2013 Request)
Employees: 400 (FY 2013 Estimate)
Official Website: https://www.abmc.gov/
American Battle Monuments Commission
McPeak, Merrill "Tony"
Chairman

Former U.S. Air Force chief of staff Merrill Anthony “Tony” McPeak was named chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission on June 3, 2011. Established in 1923, the commission administers and maintains overseas U.S. war monuments and military cemeteries where almost 125,000 American servicemen, largely from World War I and the European Theater of World War II, are buried.

 

McPeak was born on January 9, 1936, in Santa Rosa, California. He attended Grants Pass High School in Grants Pass, Oregon, and in 1957 he earned a B.A. in economics at San Diego State College, California. That November he entered active duty with the Air Force ROTC.

 

After a stint as an instructor pilot and weapons officer at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, he was assigned as a solo pilot with the Air Force’s aerobatic flying team, the Thunderbirds. Between December 1966 and December 1968, he performed in 200 air shows with the group, both in the United States and overseas. McPeak was then shipped off to South Vietnam, where he served as an attack pilot and high-speed forward air controller during the Vietnam War. He completed 269 combat missions during his Vietnam tour, which ended in 1970.

 

“The tendency to base decisions on myth rather than fact is a special danger for politicians, who must make a career of fooling others,” McPeak told Time, reflecting on that war 42 years later. “Lyndon Johnson seemed incapable of an objective analysis of what was happening in Southeast Asia. He believed what he said, what he wanted to believe, ignoring the altogether too obvious evidence at hand. But military leaders, whose sterner training is meant to provide a firm grounding in reality, can fall into this trap also, as [Gen. William] Westmoreland did. And when a senior military leader becomes delusional, lives are at risk immediately and on a large scale. The result is a sort of Greek tragedy, which is how I see the Vietnam War.”

 

Upon his return to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1970, McPeak joined the U.S. Air Force’s Washington headquarters as an air operations staff officer for its Mideast division, working there until 1973 while attending Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia. In 1974 he graduated from the National War College in Washington, D.C., and earned an M.A. in international relations from George Washington University. He was thereafter named assistant deputy commander for operations for the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

 

Between 1975 and 1976, McPeak served as a military fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. In July 1976, he became commander of the 513th Combat Support Group based at RAF Station Mildenhall. He next moved to Spain to serve as vice commander of the 406th Tactical Fighter Training Wing at the Zaragoza Air Base. Two years later, McPeak was off to Boerfink, West Germany, where he served as assistant chief of staff for current operations for Allied Air Forces, Central Europe. In 1980, he commanded the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing, based at RAF Station Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire, England.

 

From 1981 to 1982, McPeak served as chief of staff at USAFE headquarters, and from 1982 to 1985 he was deputy chief of staff for plans at TAC headquarters at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. He then returned to USAF headquarters where, between 1985 and 1987, he served as deputy chief of staff for programs and resources. In June 1987, he once again relocated, this time to Texas where, at the Bergstrom Air Force Base, he held the joint positions of 12th Air Force commander and commander of Air Forces for United States Southern Command. The following year he became commander-in-chief of Pacific Air Forces PACAF.

 

In October 1990, during the run-up to the U.S.-led Persian Gulf War, McPeak was appointed Air Force chief of staff by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, who had abruptly removed former chief of staff General Michael Dugan after a controversial remark Dugan made to the press about the targeting of Iraq leader Saddam Hussein. In his new post, McPeak had a hand in the strategic planning of the combat phase of the war, codenamed Operation Desert Storm. Years later, as part of his response to an American Spectator article criticizing McPeak’s stance on Israel, McPeak—a one-time election-year co-chairman of Oregon Veterans for Bush—cited his opposition to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq: “I was a vocal opponent of the George W. Bush Administration's decision to invade Iraq, a strategic blunder made worse by slapdash execution. As we have seen, this star-crossed action took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, breathed new life into a moribund al Qaeda, and enhanced Iranian influence in this critical region—all outcomes which damaged both the United States and our ally Israel.”

 

For three weeks in 1993, McPeak—a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—also served as acting secretary of the Air Force, the only Air Force chief of staff and active-duty Air Force officer to have done so.

 

That year, McPeak held an unusual news conference at the Pentagon to announce his firing of a two-star Air Force general who had made disparaging remarks about then-President Bill Clinton. After Major General Harold N. Campbell called Clinton a “dope smoking,” “skirt chasing,” “draft dodging” commander-in-chief, McPeak said Campbell would be fined $7,000, receive a letter of reprimand and be retired from his position. “This is not a trivial matter,” McPeak told the press. “The chain of command has to be almost pollution free. It runs from the President all the way down to the corporal who pulls the trigger.” Fifteen years later, McPeak called Clinton unpatriotic—even accusing him of using the tactics of Joe McCarthy—for a remark Clinton made about then-Senator Barack Obama during Obama’s run for the Democratic presidential nomination against opponent Hillary Clinton.

 

McPeak remained as chief of staff until October 25, 1994, signaling his retirement from the Air Force. To some, his tenure had been a controversial one, given a perceived favoritism toward pilots at the expense of non-pilot personnel, and a management style that sought corporate-like reorganization which was often met with resistance by a tradition-bound military community.

 

“General McPeak retired from active duty in 1994, but even today, Air Force veterans of that era still shudder at the changes he tried to impose,” wrote an Air Force vet posting as George Smiley in December 2007 on the blog “In from the Cold.” “Many of us recognized the ‘reorganization’ for what it was—nothing more than a shell game, designed to preserve command billets for the pilot community… McPeak and his minions also had the bright idea of consolidating operations and maintenance functions under flying squadron commanders… As you might expect, the “merger”…created numerous headaches, and more than a few maintenance officers got passed over for promotion, usually because their boss—the flying squadron commander—favored aircrew personnel in the appraisal and selection process.”

 

Oddly, McPeak is well remembered by senior Air Force personnel not only for his daring combat missions and leadership resume, but for a controversial uniform design that he put into effect in 1991. The most sweeping change in Air Force service dress uniforms since 1948, the new design proved to be a misfire with service members, who refrained from making the change as long as possible during the four-year uniform transition period. The Air Force released a collective sigh of relief when McPeak retired in 1994 and, within a week’s time, the uniform requirement was lifted. Considered the Edsel of military uniforms, the garb was officially named after General McPeak.

 

In 1995, McPeak entered the private sector as he founded, and became president of, the management consulting firm, McPeak & Associates. He served as Oregon state chairman for the 1996 Bob Dole for President campaign, an adviser to John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign and, in 2008 and 2009, national co-chairman of Obama for President. During the first Obama administration, in July 2010, he was appointed as a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission, and a year later became its tenth chairman.

 

McPeak has served as either chairman, CEO or director of ECC International (November 1997 to October 2003), EthicsPoint (2003-2012), Gigabeam Corp. (2004-2009), MathStar (2005-2010), DGT Holdings Corp. (since 2005), Point Blank Solutions (2008-2011), Miller Energy Resources (2010-2014), Research Solutions (since 2010), Mosquito Consolidated Gold Mines (December 2011 to July 2012), Coast Plating (January 2012 to December 2014), Lion Biotechnologies (acting CEO, January 2013 to July 2013), Genesis Biopharma (acting CEO, January 2013 to September 2013) and Lilis Energy (since January 29, 2015). He also served on the boards of directors for TWA and Tektronix, and was vice chairman of QPC Lasers (2006-2009).

 

McPeak lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon, with his wife Elynor, who serves as a member of the Lake Oswego City Council.

-Danny Biederman

 

To Learn More:

Interview with Merrill McPeak (Veterans History Project, Library of Congress)

Interview with Merrill McPeak (by Dave Weich, GeneralMcPeak.com)

Air Force Capt. Tony McPeak, Over Vietnam (by Mark Thompson, Time)

Video Interviews with Merrill McPeak (General McPeak.com)

Official Biography (U.S. Air Force, 1994)

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Cleland, Max
Previous Chairman

 

President Obama’s choice to be in charge of the American Battle Monuments Commission is a grievously wounded Vietnam veteran, twice decorated for bravery. Former U.S. Senator Max Cleland, who lost his Senate seat in an ugly and controversial re-election campaign in 2002, is the first non-General and first Vietnam combat veteran to chair the commission. The Commission, which was established after World War I, administers, operates and maintains on foreign soil 24 permanent American burial grounds, and 25 separate memorials, monuments and markers, including three memorials in the United States.  
 
Born on August 24, 1942, in Atlanta, Georgia, Joseph Maxwell Cleland earned his B.A. in History from Stetson University in 1964 and his M.A. in History from Emory University in 1965. An ROTC cadet at Stetson, Cleland began active duty in the Army in 1965 as a Second Lieutenant, eventually rising to the rank of Captain. In 1967 he volunteered for duty in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for valorous action in combat, including during the Battle of Khe Sanh on April 4, 1968. On April 8, 1968, Cleland, a Battalion Signal Officer, was sent to set up a radio relay antenna on a hilltop. As he left the helicopter that had transported him and two other soldiers, he reached for a fallen grenade. It exploded and Cleland lost both his legs and half of his right arm. After spending 18 months at Army hospitals, Cleland was discharged and returned to Georgia. 
 
In 1969, Cleland testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to describe the difficulties veterans were experiencing returning home from Vietnam. The following year, Cleland began his lengthy career in public service by winning election to the Georgia State Senate. As the youngest member of the Georgia Senate at age 28, he wrote the state law making public facilities in the state accessible to the elderly and the handicapped. After four years in the State Senate, Cleland relocated to Washington, DC, to take a job with the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, where he worked from 1975 to 1977. While Cleland was in the State Senate, he formed a close political alliance and personal friendship with Georgia’s governor, Jimmy Carter. In 1977, when Carter took over as president of the United States, he appointed Cleland Administrator of the Veterans Administration, which was not a Cabinet-level department at that time. Cleland served in that position until 1981, when Republican Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in his bid for re-election. 
 
In 1982, Georgia voters elected Cleland Secretary of State, the youngest in the state’s history. In that position, Cleland fought for tougher campaign finance laws and cracked down on securities and telemarketing fraud. In 1995, he implemented the National Voter Registration Act (“motor voter”) in Georgia, which added almost one million new voters to the rolls. In 1995, he resigned his position as Secretary of State to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Senator Sam Nunn. Despite being out-spent three to one, Cleland won the race, eking out a narrow 30,000-vote victory. He was sworn-in to the United States Senate in 1997. While in the Senate, Cleland became known as a moderate Democrat, voting for President George W. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and the Iraq authorization of the use of force resolution in 2002, yet generally supportive of abortion rights and environmental issues. 
 
In 2002, Cleland ran for re-election against Republican Saxby Chambliss, who had avoided military service thanks to a football-related knee injury. Nonetheless, Chambliss aired a TV attack ad that challenged Cleland’s commitment to defending the United States against its enemies by accusing him of voting against the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Cleland had voted to give DHS employees civil service protection, which Bush opposed. The ad failed to point out that Cleland supported the creation of a Department of Homeland Security before Bush did, and that Cleland’s “no” votes were on procedural questions. The Republican attack ads made it look as though Cleland was voting against Homeland Security itself, and one TV ad morphed Cleland’s face into Saddam Hussein’s while suggesting that Cleland was indifferent to the safety of the American people. The ad was so controversial that Republican Senators Chuck Hagel and John McCain both protested, leading the Chambliss campaign to stop airing it. The race was consider a toss-up, but on Election Day Chambliss won handily, 53%-47%. Nevertheless, Cleland’s loss raised him to martyr status within Democratic Party circles, where he has remained popular ever since. 
 

The year following his election loss, Cleland became increasingly concerned about the course of the War in Iraq, and wrote an influential and deeply

critical

article about the Bush administration’s war policies, which compared Iraq to Vietnam and concluded by taunting Bush, who did not serve in the military in Vietnam, with the words, “Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn’t go when you had the chance.” Cleland was appointed to the

9/11 Commission

, but resigned because he believed its ability to do a thorough job was being hampered by what he called the Bush administration’s

“Nixonian” efforts

to conceal important evidence about the government’s failures in the weeks before the attacks. In 2004, Cleland was active in Democratic Senator John Kerry’s failed Presidential campaign. Also in his post-Senate years, Cleland became a distinguished adjunct professor at American University’s Washington Semester Program, where he also served as a fellow at the

Center for Congressional & Presidential Studies

. Between 2003 and 2007, Cleland served on the

Board

of the

Export-Import Bank

. Cleland has written three books:

Strong at the Broken Places

,

Going for the Max!: 12 Principles for Living Life to the Fullest,

and the soon to-be-published 

Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove.



“The President Ought to be Ashamed” (interview with Eric Boehlert, Salon)
Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President (by Max Cleland, Salon)

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Overview:

The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) oversees American cemeteries and war monuments, primarily on foreign soil. At the direction of eleven commissioners appointed by the president, the commission administers and maintains 24 overseas military cemeteries where almost 125,000 American servicemen, largely from World War I and the European Theater of World War II, are buried. The commission also maintains 25 monuments, memorials, and markers, and it has commemorated the names of more than 90,000 dead in Tablets of the Missing. The commission maintains a database of all soldiers buried in its cemeteries, which correspond to theaters of war in Mexico, the Philippines, Europe, North Africa, and Korea.

 

The ABMC’s budget request for FY 2013 is $58.4 million. In June 2009 the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported a series of financial irregularities—in violation of the Antideficiency Act—that it uncovered during a 2008 audit of the ABMC. The President appointed an oversight commission, whose eight members resolved the violation in July 2010.

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History:

In the wake of World War I, in which thousands of American soldiers perished on foreign soil, Congress and President Harding enacted and signed legislation forming the American Battle Monuments Commission. The ABMC was originally charged with honoring American armed forces by controlling the design and construction of overseas markers and monuments. President Harding appointed General of the Armies John J. Pershing to the commission upon its inception, and his fellow commissioners elected him chairman, a role in which he served until his death in 1948. Seven chairmen, all former generals, have served since then. 

 

The ABMC’s World War I commemorative program entailed the construction of nonsectarian chapels on each of eight World War I cemeteries, landscaping of those cemeteries, erecting a dozen monuments elsewhere throughout Europe, and constructing the WWI Allied Expeditionary Forces Memorial in Washington D.C. Amid this activity in 1934 an executive order gave the ABMC full responsibility over the administration of the eight World War I cemeteries and charged it with overseeing all future overseas military cemeteries. 

 

During the course of World War II, American soldiers were interred in a haphazard patchwork of burial grounds, and in 1947 the ABMC designated 14 sites for the establishment of permanent cemeteries. The World War II commemorative program entailed the construction of 14 military cemeteries, in addition to several monuments in the U.S. and on foreign soil. Most remains were transferred to the permanent cemeteries and the temporary sites were disestablished. However, families had the option of repatriating remains or letting them rest in their original burial places, in which case next of kin assumed responsibility for care of the grave.

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What it Does:

In addition to its primary responsibilities, the commission also oversees the design of both public and “private” overseas memorials—the latter defined as “a permanent war monument or marker commemorating the sacrifices of the American armed forces erected by any American person or entity.” With the exception of the East Coast Memorial (New York City), the West Coast Memorial (San Francisco), and the Honolulu Memorial, the commission is generally not responsible for memorials on U.S. soil or for memorials erected by any other government agency.  It is not affiliated with monuments or cemeteries on U.S. soil, including Arlington Cemetery, the Vietnam Memorial, or markers at battlefields such as Gettysburg. ABMC oversaw the planning and building of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, but handed over operation of the memorial to the National Park Service upon completion (see “Controversy” below). Memorials for American Expeditionary Forces and the Korean War, both in Washington D.C., were handled similarly. (Most domestic cemeteries are administered either by the Department of Veterans Affairs or the National Park Service.) 

 

The ABMC’s annual budget (click for the latest annual report [pdf]) funds the regular maintenance of the cemeteries and memorials under its care, including landscaping, repair and replacement of headstones, and occasional capital improvements, such as the Normandy Visitors Center. The majority of the commission’s budget is dedicated to wages for grounds crews. The commission retains architects as advisers and approves the design of facilities under its charge as well as private markers and memorials. It does not, however, contribute financial resources to private memorials. 

 

The ABMC incurs few capital costs because in most cases land for the cemeteries has been granted in perpetuity by the host countries free of charge or taxation with the stipulation that, except in the case of the Manila American Cemetery, they house only the remains of soldiers who died overseas during wartime. All overseas cemeteries are closed to new burials, with the rare exception of remains of Americans that are discovered and were previously unaccounted for. 

 

The commission is based in Washington D.C., and maintains regional offices in Paris and Rome. Its 24 cemeteries are located in eight countries: France (11), Belgium (3), England (2), Italy (2), Luxembourg, Netherlands, Tunisia, Mexico, Panama, and the Philippines. 

 

Current ABMC activities include the addition of an interpretive exhibit at Pointe du Hoc, Normandy, France—the precarious cliff-side site that was the target of a U.S. Rangers attack on D-Day, World War II, and current location of an ABMC memorial monument.

 

Programs

Cemeteries

Memorials

Databases and Burial Listings

AMBC maintains listings of all war dead buried in AMBC cemeteries as well as those of all servicemen killed in the Korean War and civilians killed during the construction of the Panama Canal. Databases also include listings of WWI and WWII soldiers listed missing in action who are memorialized on Tablets of the Missing and Vietnam MIAs who are listed at the Honolulu Memorial. 

 

From the Web Site of the American Battle Monuments Commission

Annual Reports

“Battle of Pointe du Hoc” Interactive

Burial Listings

Cemeteries

Commissioners

Contact Information

Data Base – Korean War

Data Base – World War I

Data Base – World War II

Employment

Events

FAQs

“Fields of Honor” - Video

“Hallowed Grounds” Documentary

History

Memorials

Normandy American Cemetery - Webcam

Normandy Campaign

Normandy Visitor Center

Organization

Publications

Services Available

World War II Memorial

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Where Does the Money Go:

The AMBC spent $255,794 on contractor services between 2002 and 2012, according to USAspending.gov. The top five types of services included ADP supplies ($107,188), education and training ($58,000), I.T. and telecommunications ($43,133), building construction ($20,504), and administrative support ($9,905).

 

The following are the top five recipients of AMBC contractor spending during that period, including the amount paid to each contractor and its percentage of overall contractor spending:

1. Dell Inc.                                                                  $96,621 (38%)           

2. Informa Group PLC                                               $58,000 (23%)           

3. Eagle Collaborative Computing Services Inc.         $43,133 (17%)           

4. Government Sales Associates, Inc.                         $20,000 (8%) 

5. Robert Half International Inc.                                 $9,905 (4%) 

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Controversies:

Although the American Battle Monuments Commission deals mainly with overseas facilities, it served as the lead agency in the establishment of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C. 

 

In conjunction with a separate 12-member Memorial Advisory Board convened by President Bill Clinton, the commission was directed to choose a design, and raise $100 million in donations for its construction (eventually $197 million was raised, $16 million of it from federal funds). The commission selected a design by architect Friedrich St. Florian and chose a site on the National Mall. The site was dedicated in 1995. Ground was broken in 2000, and the memorial was completed in 2004. 

 

Despite its unimpeachable mission, the World War II Memorial roused significant controversy and scorn from citizens and design experts for both its site and architecture. While proponents laud it for its prominence and heroic beaux arts design, opponents, including Save Our Mall, claimed that it cluttered the Mall and obscured the iconic view and formerly unobstructed view from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument. They also claimed that it took up space that had often been used for demonstrations and other public gatherings. 

 

Architectural critics have derided its design, specifically its heavy use of neoclassical elements such as marble pillars and arches. They contend that the iconography of classicism had long been corrupted and co-opted by Fascists, among others, and that its un-ironic use was inappropriately naïve and melodramatic. Supporters argue that the memorial maintains an appropriate degree of grandeur and that modern memorials such as the stark Vietnam Memorial are morbid, vacant, and unsettlingly abstract. Furthermore, the design competition roused suspicion for an unusually swift selection process. Backers of the memorial responded that time was of the essence in order to honor the nation’s dwindling ranks of living WWII veterans.

 

Although the AMBC was the lead agency in the memorial’s inception and construction, it no longer has any formal connection to it. The World War II Memorial is currently administered by the National Parks Service’s National Mall and Memorial Parks unit. 

The World War II Memorial Defaces a National Treasure (National Coalition to Save Our Mall)

A memorial to forget (by Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times)

Design for World War II Memorial Awaits Review, With Detractors Vocal (by Irvin Molotsky, New York Times)

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Former Directors:

Max Cleland

President Barack Obama’s choice to be in charge of the American Battle Monuments Commission is a grievously wounded Vietnam veteran, twice decorated for bravery. Former U.S. Senator Max Cleland, who lost his Senate seat in an ugly and controversial re-election campaign in 2002, is the first non-General and first Vietnam combat veteran to chair the commission. The Commission, which was established after World War I, administers, operates and maintains on foreign soil 24 permanent American burial grounds, and 25 separate memorials, monuments and markers, including three memorials in the United States. 

 

Born on August 24, 1942, in Atlanta, GA, Joseph Maxwell Cleland earned his BA in History from Stetson University in 1964 and his MA in History from Emory University in 1965. An ROTC cadet at Stetson, Cleland began active duty in the Army in 1965 as a Second Lieutenant, eventually rising to the rank of Captain. In 1967, he volunteered for duty in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for valorous action in combat, including during the Battle of Khe Sanh on April 4, 1968. On April 8, 1968, Cleland, a Battalion Signal Officer, was sent to set up a radio relay antenna on a hilltop. As he left the helicopter that had transported him and two other soldiers, he reached for a fallen grenade. It exploded and Cleland lost both his legs and half of his right arm. After spending 18 months at Army hospitals, Cleland was discharged and returned to Georgia. 

 

In 1969, Cleland testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to describe the difficulties veterans were experiencing returning home from Vietnam. The following year, Cleland began his lengthy career in public service by winning election to the Georgia State Senate. As the youngest member of the Georgia Senate at age 28, he wrote the state law making public facilities in the state accessible to the elderly and the handicapped. After four years in the State Senate, Cleland relocated to Washington D.C., to take a job with the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, where he worked from 1975 to 1977. While Cleland was in the State Senate, he formed a close political alliance and personal friendship with Georgia’s governor, Jimmy Carter. In 1977, when Carter took over as President of the United States, he appointed Cleland Administrator of the Veterans Administration, which was not a Cabinet-level department at that time. Cleland served in that position until 1981, when Republican Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in his bid for re-election. 

 

In 1982, Georgia voters elected Cleland Secretary of State, the youngest in the state’s history.  In that position, Cleland fought for tougher campaign finance laws and cracked down on securities and telemarketing fraud. In 1995, he implemented the National Voter Registration Act (“motor voter”) in Georgia, which added almost one million new voters to the rolls. In 1995, he resigned his position as Secretary of State to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Senator Sam Nunn. Despite being out-spent three to one, Cleland won the race, eking out a narrow 30,000-vote victory. He was sworn in to the United States Senate in 1997. While in the Senate, Cleland became known as a moderate Democrat, voting for President George W. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and the Iraq authorization of the use of force resolution in 2002, yet generally supportive of abortion rights and environmental issues. 

 

In 2002, Cleland ran for re-election against Republican Saxby Chambliss, who had avoided military service thanks to a football-related knee injury. Nonetheless, Chambliss aired a TV attack ad that challenged Cleland’s commitment to defending the United States against its enemies by accusing him of voting against the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Cleland had voted to give DHS employees civil service protection, which Bush opposed. The ad failed to point out that Cleland supported the creation of a Department of Homeland Security before Bush did, and that Cleland’s “no” votes were on procedural questions. The Republican attack ads made it look as though Cleland was voting against Homeland Security itself, and one TV ad morphed Cleland’s face into Saddam Hussein’s while suggesting that Cleland was indifferent to the safety of the American people. The ad was so controversial that Republican Senators Chuck Hagel and John McCain both protested, leading the Chambliss campaign to stop airing it. The race was consider a toss-up, but on Election Day, Chambliss won handily, 53%-47%. Nevertheless, Cleland’s loss raised him to martyr status within Democratic Party circles, where he has remained popular ever since. 

 

The year following his election loss, Cleland became increasingly concerned about the course of the War in Iraq, and wrote an influential and deeply critical article about the Bush administration’s war policies, which compared Iraq to Vietnam and concluded by taunting Bush, who did not serve in the military in Vietnam, with the words, “Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn’t go when you had the chance.” Cleland was appointed to the 9/11 Commission, but resigned because he believed its ability to do a thorough job was being hampered by what he called the Bush administration’s “Nixonian” efforts to conceal important evidence about the government’s failures in the weeks before the attacks. In 2004, Cleland was active in Democratic Senator John Kerry’s failed Presidential campaign. Also in his post-Senate years, Cleland became a distinguished adjunct professor at American University’s Washington Semester Program, where he also served as a fellow at the Center for Congressional & Presidential Studies. Between 2003 and 2007, Cleland served on the Board of the Export-Import Bank. Cleland has written three books: Strong at the Broken Places (2000), Going for the Max!: 12 Principles for Living Life to the Fullest (2000), and Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove (2009).

 

Biography at the New Georgia Encyclopedia

Veterans History Project Oral History Interviews (Library of Congress)

“The President Ought to be Ashamed”(interview with Eric Boehlert, Salon)

Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President (by Max Cleland, Salon)

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Comments

TobyDecker 1 year ago
Senator Cleland and I served in the Signal Corps. I was returning from VN, just after he deployed there. We both worked for Gen. Tom Rienzi at Ft. Monmouth. We exchanged Christmas cards for many years but lost contact with each other. I have followed his career and read his books, and found Heart of a Patriot, especially inspiring. Please forward this message to him...Thanks,
Mary A. Morris 2 years ago
My brother, Vivian F Brookshier, Infantry, Army Serial Number 37 539 693 was killed in WW II and buried in Rhone American Cemetery in Draguigan, France. Alain Dubreuil and his Wife has adopted his grave. They have gone to great ends to find any of his family and I am the only one left. I am planning a trip there next May to observe Memorial Day. I have a friend, Ed Duncan who will be helping me with travel. Is there any help you can offer us with this trip? Thank You, Mary Anne Morris
Rick Archer 4 years ago
would you have Shane Williams of the American Battle Monuments Commission please contact me? I have an important idea on a way to improve the Normandy American Memorial area. Thank you, Rick Archer
Joseph Vrtis 5 years ago
Mr. Cleland, Just returned from a visit to the Normandy American Cemetery with my son and brother-in-law, a fellow veteran like myself. We had the chance to interact with the Director of Operations, Shane Williams who could not have been more helpful and outgoing. Upon learning that we were veterans, he took charge and made sure we were involved in lower the flags at taps. This meant so much to all 3 of us and are very grateful to not only the men lying in rest there, but to Mr. Williams. Thank you Max, thank you Shane and God Bless America. Sincerely, Joseph Vrtis CDR, USN-R
Lou Fazio 6 years ago
The president was asking for God's help us win the war.He was not being malicious as some interrupt; hence, I think that "So help us God" should be added to the end of this speech. They've taken God out of the schools, what will be next if we don't start taking action now before it's too late. G
N. McDonald 6 years ago
are there any memorials to the servicemen of puerto rico that served in the panama canal zone during world war i? if so, where is it? i am interested in visiting such a memorial or museum if one exists? where could i find information about historic photos of puerto ricans serving for the first time for the united states? what encampment did these service men stay at while serving for the united states for the first time? where is the documentation and commemoration for this fact?
Ted Summerford 6 years ago
within the past couple years, in the town of mt pleasant, we created a war memorial to all those from our area who have fought and died, in any conflict, for our country. one of our elected officials has proposed to have the pow/mia flag flown at this momument all the time...much like the us flag. i am of the opinion that this isn't proper in that this flag should only be flown on certain, designated occasions. can you provide me with the ruling or regulatory guidelines for this ...
Barbara Karas 7 years ago
this message is for max cleland, who i am trying to contact. please tell him that his good friend, clara embs has passed away at the age of 95. funeral is 9/22/11 at skradski boyce funeral home in escanaba mi their web site offers an area for tributes my number is 906-474-5060 niece barb

Leave a comment

Founded: 1923, by act of Congress (36 U.S.C., Chapter 21) as an agency of the Executive Branch.
Annual Budget: $58.4 million (FY 2013 Request)
Employees: 400 (FY 2013 Estimate)
Official Website: https://www.abmc.gov/
American Battle Monuments Commission
McPeak, Merrill "Tony"
Chairman

Former U.S. Air Force chief of staff Merrill Anthony “Tony” McPeak was named chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission on June 3, 2011. Established in 1923, the commission administers and maintains overseas U.S. war monuments and military cemeteries where almost 125,000 American servicemen, largely from World War I and the European Theater of World War II, are buried.

 

McPeak was born on January 9, 1936, in Santa Rosa, California. He attended Grants Pass High School in Grants Pass, Oregon, and in 1957 he earned a B.A. in economics at San Diego State College, California. That November he entered active duty with the Air Force ROTC.

 

After a stint as an instructor pilot and weapons officer at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, he was assigned as a solo pilot with the Air Force’s aerobatic flying team, the Thunderbirds. Between December 1966 and December 1968, he performed in 200 air shows with the group, both in the United States and overseas. McPeak was then shipped off to South Vietnam, where he served as an attack pilot and high-speed forward air controller during the Vietnam War. He completed 269 combat missions during his Vietnam tour, which ended in 1970.

 

“The tendency to base decisions on myth rather than fact is a special danger for politicians, who must make a career of fooling others,” McPeak told Time, reflecting on that war 42 years later. “Lyndon Johnson seemed incapable of an objective analysis of what was happening in Southeast Asia. He believed what he said, what he wanted to believe, ignoring the altogether too obvious evidence at hand. But military leaders, whose sterner training is meant to provide a firm grounding in reality, can fall into this trap also, as [Gen. William] Westmoreland did. And when a senior military leader becomes delusional, lives are at risk immediately and on a large scale. The result is a sort of Greek tragedy, which is how I see the Vietnam War.”

 

Upon his return to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1970, McPeak joined the U.S. Air Force’s Washington headquarters as an air operations staff officer for its Mideast division, working there until 1973 while attending Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia. In 1974 he graduated from the National War College in Washington, D.C., and earned an M.A. in international relations from George Washington University. He was thereafter named assistant deputy commander for operations for the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

 

Between 1975 and 1976, McPeak served as a military fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. In July 1976, he became commander of the 513th Combat Support Group based at RAF Station Mildenhall. He next moved to Spain to serve as vice commander of the 406th Tactical Fighter Training Wing at the Zaragoza Air Base. Two years later, McPeak was off to Boerfink, West Germany, where he served as assistant chief of staff for current operations for Allied Air Forces, Central Europe. In 1980, he commanded the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing, based at RAF Station Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire, England.

 

From 1981 to 1982, McPeak served as chief of staff at USAFE headquarters, and from 1982 to 1985 he was deputy chief of staff for plans at TAC headquarters at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. He then returned to USAF headquarters where, between 1985 and 1987, he served as deputy chief of staff for programs and resources. In June 1987, he once again relocated, this time to Texas where, at the Bergstrom Air Force Base, he held the joint positions of 12th Air Force commander and commander of Air Forces for United States Southern Command. The following year he became commander-in-chief of Pacific Air Forces PACAF.

 

In October 1990, during the run-up to the U.S.-led Persian Gulf War, McPeak was appointed Air Force chief of staff by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, who had abruptly removed former chief of staff General Michael Dugan after a controversial remark Dugan made to the press about the targeting of Iraq leader Saddam Hussein. In his new post, McPeak had a hand in the strategic planning of the combat phase of the war, codenamed Operation Desert Storm. Years later, as part of his response to an American Spectator article criticizing McPeak’s stance on Israel, McPeak—a one-time election-year co-chairman of Oregon Veterans for Bush—cited his opposition to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq: “I was a vocal opponent of the George W. Bush Administration's decision to invade Iraq, a strategic blunder made worse by slapdash execution. As we have seen, this star-crossed action took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, breathed new life into a moribund al Qaeda, and enhanced Iranian influence in this critical region—all outcomes which damaged both the United States and our ally Israel.”

 

For three weeks in 1993, McPeak—a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—also served as acting secretary of the Air Force, the only Air Force chief of staff and active-duty Air Force officer to have done so.

 

That year, McPeak held an unusual news conference at the Pentagon to announce his firing of a two-star Air Force general who had made disparaging remarks about then-President Bill Clinton. After Major General Harold N. Campbell called Clinton a “dope smoking,” “skirt chasing,” “draft dodging” commander-in-chief, McPeak said Campbell would be fined $7,000, receive a letter of reprimand and be retired from his position. “This is not a trivial matter,” McPeak told the press. “The chain of command has to be almost pollution free. It runs from the President all the way down to the corporal who pulls the trigger.” Fifteen years later, McPeak called Clinton unpatriotic—even accusing him of using the tactics of Joe McCarthy—for a remark Clinton made about then-Senator Barack Obama during Obama’s run for the Democratic presidential nomination against opponent Hillary Clinton.

 

McPeak remained as chief of staff until October 25, 1994, signaling his retirement from the Air Force. To some, his tenure had been a controversial one, given a perceived favoritism toward pilots at the expense of non-pilot personnel, and a management style that sought corporate-like reorganization which was often met with resistance by a tradition-bound military community.

 

“General McPeak retired from active duty in 1994, but even today, Air Force veterans of that era still shudder at the changes he tried to impose,” wrote an Air Force vet posting as George Smiley in December 2007 on the blog “In from the Cold.” “Many of us recognized the ‘reorganization’ for what it was—nothing more than a shell game, designed to preserve command billets for the pilot community… McPeak and his minions also had the bright idea of consolidating operations and maintenance functions under flying squadron commanders… As you might expect, the “merger”…created numerous headaches, and more than a few maintenance officers got passed over for promotion, usually because their boss—the flying squadron commander—favored aircrew personnel in the appraisal and selection process.”

 

Oddly, McPeak is well remembered by senior Air Force personnel not only for his daring combat missions and leadership resume, but for a controversial uniform design that he put into effect in 1991. The most sweeping change in Air Force service dress uniforms since 1948, the new design proved to be a misfire with service members, who refrained from making the change as long as possible during the four-year uniform transition period. The Air Force released a collective sigh of relief when McPeak retired in 1994 and, within a week’s time, the uniform requirement was lifted. Considered the Edsel of military uniforms, the garb was officially named after General McPeak.

 

In 1995, McPeak entered the private sector as he founded, and became president of, the management consulting firm, McPeak & Associates. He served as Oregon state chairman for the 1996 Bob Dole for President campaign, an adviser to John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign and, in 2008 and 2009, national co-chairman of Obama for President. During the first Obama administration, in July 2010, he was appointed as a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission, and a year later became its tenth chairman.

 

McPeak has served as either chairman, CEO or director of ECC International (November 1997 to October 2003), EthicsPoint (2003-2012), Gigabeam Corp. (2004-2009), MathStar (2005-2010), DGT Holdings Corp. (since 2005), Point Blank Solutions (2008-2011), Miller Energy Resources (2010-2014), Research Solutions (since 2010), Mosquito Consolidated Gold Mines (December 2011 to July 2012), Coast Plating (January 2012 to December 2014), Lion Biotechnologies (acting CEO, January 2013 to July 2013), Genesis Biopharma (acting CEO, January 2013 to September 2013) and Lilis Energy (since January 29, 2015). He also served on the boards of directors for TWA and Tektronix, and was vice chairman of QPC Lasers (2006-2009).

 

McPeak lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon, with his wife Elynor, who serves as a member of the Lake Oswego City Council.

-Danny Biederman

 

To Learn More:

Interview with Merrill McPeak (Veterans History Project, Library of Congress)

Interview with Merrill McPeak (by Dave Weich, GeneralMcPeak.com)

Air Force Capt. Tony McPeak, Over Vietnam (by Mark Thompson, Time)

Video Interviews with Merrill McPeak (General McPeak.com)

Official Biography (U.S. Air Force, 1994)

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Cleland, Max
Previous Chairman

 

President Obama’s choice to be in charge of the American Battle Monuments Commission is a grievously wounded Vietnam veteran, twice decorated for bravery. Former U.S. Senator Max Cleland, who lost his Senate seat in an ugly and controversial re-election campaign in 2002, is the first non-General and first Vietnam combat veteran to chair the commission. The Commission, which was established after World War I, administers, operates and maintains on foreign soil 24 permanent American burial grounds, and 25 separate memorials, monuments and markers, including three memorials in the United States.  
 
Born on August 24, 1942, in Atlanta, Georgia, Joseph Maxwell Cleland earned his B.A. in History from Stetson University in 1964 and his M.A. in History from Emory University in 1965. An ROTC cadet at Stetson, Cleland began active duty in the Army in 1965 as a Second Lieutenant, eventually rising to the rank of Captain. In 1967 he volunteered for duty in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for valorous action in combat, including during the Battle of Khe Sanh on April 4, 1968. On April 8, 1968, Cleland, a Battalion Signal Officer, was sent to set up a radio relay antenna on a hilltop. As he left the helicopter that had transported him and two other soldiers, he reached for a fallen grenade. It exploded and Cleland lost both his legs and half of his right arm. After spending 18 months at Army hospitals, Cleland was discharged and returned to Georgia. 
 
In 1969, Cleland testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to describe the difficulties veterans were experiencing returning home from Vietnam. The following year, Cleland began his lengthy career in public service by winning election to the Georgia State Senate. As the youngest member of the Georgia Senate at age 28, he wrote the state law making public facilities in the state accessible to the elderly and the handicapped. After four years in the State Senate, Cleland relocated to Washington, DC, to take a job with the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, where he worked from 1975 to 1977. While Cleland was in the State Senate, he formed a close political alliance and personal friendship with Georgia’s governor, Jimmy Carter. In 1977, when Carter took over as president of the United States, he appointed Cleland Administrator of the Veterans Administration, which was not a Cabinet-level department at that time. Cleland served in that position until 1981, when Republican Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in his bid for re-election. 
 
In 1982, Georgia voters elected Cleland Secretary of State, the youngest in the state’s history. In that position, Cleland fought for tougher campaign finance laws and cracked down on securities and telemarketing fraud. In 1995, he implemented the National Voter Registration Act (“motor voter”) in Georgia, which added almost one million new voters to the rolls. In 1995, he resigned his position as Secretary of State to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Senator Sam Nunn. Despite being out-spent three to one, Cleland won the race, eking out a narrow 30,000-vote victory. He was sworn-in to the United States Senate in 1997. While in the Senate, Cleland became known as a moderate Democrat, voting for President George W. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and the Iraq authorization of the use of force resolution in 2002, yet generally supportive of abortion rights and environmental issues. 
 
In 2002, Cleland ran for re-election against Republican Saxby Chambliss, who had avoided military service thanks to a football-related knee injury. Nonetheless, Chambliss aired a TV attack ad that challenged Cleland’s commitment to defending the United States against its enemies by accusing him of voting against the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Cleland had voted to give DHS employees civil service protection, which Bush opposed. The ad failed to point out that Cleland supported the creation of a Department of Homeland Security before Bush did, and that Cleland’s “no” votes were on procedural questions. The Republican attack ads made it look as though Cleland was voting against Homeland Security itself, and one TV ad morphed Cleland’s face into Saddam Hussein’s while suggesting that Cleland was indifferent to the safety of the American people. The ad was so controversial that Republican Senators Chuck Hagel and John McCain both protested, leading the Chambliss campaign to stop airing it. The race was consider a toss-up, but on Election Day Chambliss won handily, 53%-47%. Nevertheless, Cleland’s loss raised him to martyr status within Democratic Party circles, where he has remained popular ever since. 
 

The year following his election loss, Cleland became increasingly concerned about the course of the War in Iraq, and wrote an influential and deeply

critical

article about the Bush administration’s war policies, which compared Iraq to Vietnam and concluded by taunting Bush, who did not serve in the military in Vietnam, with the words, “Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn’t go when you had the chance.” Cleland was appointed to the

9/11 Commission

, but resigned because he believed its ability to do a thorough job was being hampered by what he called the Bush administration’s

“Nixonian” efforts

to conceal important evidence about the government’s failures in the weeks before the attacks. In 2004, Cleland was active in Democratic Senator John Kerry’s failed Presidential campaign. Also in his post-Senate years, Cleland became a distinguished adjunct professor at American University’s Washington Semester Program, where he also served as a fellow at the

Center for Congressional & Presidential Studies

. Between 2003 and 2007, Cleland served on the

Board

of the

Export-Import Bank

. Cleland has written three books:

Strong at the Broken Places

,

Going for the Max!: 12 Principles for Living Life to the Fullest,

and the soon to-be-published 

Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove.



“The President Ought to be Ashamed” (interview with Eric Boehlert, Salon)
Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President (by Max Cleland, Salon)

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