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Thomas Leonard Cleland

 

 

 

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thomas_cleland-ypsiThomas Leonard Cleland was born on November 5, 1941 to Mr. Leslie and Mrs. Coryell Cleland. His sister Andrea (Coron) remembered him as being very tall and thin. She writes, “To me it was like looking up at a very tall tree. He was very kind and protective of those he loved. He called me ‘Honey’. He was well liked by everyone. He had lots of friends and loved to laugh. ”

Thomas played baseball for Lincoln High School. His statement for his class yearbook was, “One today is worth two tomorrows.” He loved to go fishing and swimming. There was a gravel pit behind his street. It was very deep and, even though Thomas was a good swimmer, his mother was always worried about him when we went swimming in the pit. Thomas, his brother Dale and his friends went to the pit often.

Andrea continued, “Tom really liked to eat, and loved most foods. Mom used to say he had two hollow legs because she couldn’t seem to fill him up. Dad had a garden and Tom and Dale would often help their father. If Dad needed help and couldn’t find Tom, he’d always go to the Ford Lake Dam and find Tom there fishing. When he was in the 11th grade, he got a job on a farm that had milking cows. Tom would have to get up and milk the cows by 5 A.M. each morning. Mr. and Mrs. Maleski who owned the farm, invited Tom to stay with them during the week to make the milking easier. He would take the school bus from the farm. Tom worked at the farm until he graduated from Lincoln Consolidated High School 1959”.

The Fulton family lived across from the Maleski’s farm. Ken Fulton was Tom’s best friend. Ken was killed in Vietnam a couple months after Tom was killed. They both are listed on the Washtenaw County Vietnam Memorial.

After graduating from high school, Tom joined the Army, and while in the service he married a former class mate, Sharon Hubbard. Following Basic he was sent to Korea. His brother Dale enlisted the following year and was also sent to Korea. Dale discovered that Tom was only two miles away. They were always close so this reunion was an especially happy time. When Tom’s time was up, he reenlisted for four more years. When he came home on leave, he told his family that he had volunteered to go to Vietnam. He had a choice to go to Korea as General Westmoreland’s driver, or go to Vietnam. He chose Vietnam because he told his family that he would rather go back than for a seventeen year old to be sent there.

“The last time we heard from him was through a radio phone patch from Vietnam”, reports Andrea. “We talked and teased a little and then he spoke to mom. She was so happy to hear his voice. Since his unit was ready to move out, he said it might be a while before we heard from him again. Two months later they got the news he had been killed.”    

Thomas began his tour of duty in Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam on May 7, 1966 serving as an Antenna Installer Specialist with Headquarters, Headquarters Company, First Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. He was killed on July 11, 1967 after serving "In-country" for one year, two months and four days. Tom’s commanding officer wrote to the family saying that he needed someone to take a message to the front lines. Tom was killed while returning to his unit by someone from his unit. His commanding officer wrote the family that he had told Tom the pass word and to go in the back way, but Tom went in the wrong way. A soldier on the perimeter asked for the password and Tom did not respond and crouched down. The soldier asked again and again and Tom crouched down more and the soldier fired and hit Tom. His sister Andrea stated, “I hope he reads this, to know that no one in our family resents or blames him. Our tears are for him too! I wish I knew him. I would love to be able to tell him, so he could look in my eyes and see how sincere I am and hug him. I am so sorry for him too.”

After he was killed, “we received what turned out to be a prank Red Cross call. The person said that it was a mistake and it wasn’t Tom who was killed. They said they would come out the next day and explain everything. Three days later they had not come. You can imagine how we were feeling. So dad called the Red Cross. They told him that they would not have called, but would have come out to the house to tell them. It was a terrible dirty prank that someone played. At the funeral his casket was open, or to this day I would not have believed it. He will always be remembered with laughter, tears and a lot of pride for a very gentle man. These many years later the healing goes on for all of us.”

Specialist 4 Thomas Leonard Cleland was survived by his parents, his wife Sharon, two brothers (Dale and Terry) and a sister (Andrea Coron). He lived 25 years, 8 months and 6 days. He is resting in St. Joseph's Cemetery in Whittaker, Michigan. Thomas' name is listed on the Vietnam Memorial in Ypsilanti Township under Ypsilanti. His name also appears on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC on Panel 23E Line 049.

The Wall rubbing by John Kinzinger

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