Thurman, Maxwell Reid, GEN

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Last Rank
Last Service Branch
Last Primary MOS
00GC-Commanding General
Last MOS Group
General Officer
Primary Unit
1989-1991, United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM)
Service Years
1953 - 1991



Ten Overseas Service Bars

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Home State
North Carolina
North Carolina
Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by the Site Administrator to remember Thurman, Maxwell Reid (19th Army Vice CofS), GEN USA(Ret).
Contact Info
Home Town
High Point
Last Address
Not Specified

Date of Passing
Dec 01, 1995
Location of Interment
Arlington National Cemetery - Arlington, Virginia
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

 Official Badges 

Army Staff Identification US Army Retired (Pre-2007) Army Recruiter - 3 stars Joint Chiefs of Staff

US Southern Command US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) II Field Force, Vietnam US Army Retired

 Unofficial Badges 

Ordnance Shoulder Cord Artillery Shoulder Cord

 Additional Information
Last Known Activity


Maxwell Reid Thurman "Mad Max" (February 18, 1931 - December 1, 1995) was a U.S. Army general, Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, and former commander of United States Army Training and Doctrine Command.


He attended North Carolina State University graduating with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering (ceramics). While in college he was a member of the Professional Engineering Fraternity Theta Tau. He was commissioned a second lieutenant of Ordnance from NCSU's ROTC program in 1953 but branch transferred to Field Artillery. His first assignment was with the 11th Airborne Division and in 1958 deployed his Honest John Rocket platoon to Lebanon. From 1961-63, he served in Vietnam as an Intelligence Officer for I Vietnamese Corps. Following his service in Vietnam, Thurman was selected one of the first non-Academy graduates assigned as a company tactical officer at the United States Military Academy. In 1966 he attended the Command and General Staff College, then returned to Vietnam, in 1967, where he assumed command of the 2d Howitzer Battalion, 35th Artillery Regiment in 1968.

After completing the U.S. Army War College in 1970, Thurman held numerous troop and staff assignments before, eventually, assuming command of U.S. Army Recruiting Command in 1979, where he initiated the highly successful "BE ALL YOU CAN BE" recruiting campaign. From 1981-83 he was Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army, Personnel (DCSPER) and from 1983-87 he was the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army (VCSA).

In 1989 Thurman applied for retirement while serving as Command General, TRADOC. Instead, he was handpicked by President George H. Bush to be Commander-in-Chief, United States Southern Command. In this position, he planned and executed Operation Just Cause, the 1989 invasion of Panama. He was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia while still commander in chief of U.S. Southern Command shortly after Operation Just Cause. Thurman retired in 1991 after more than thirty-seven years of service, and died in 1995.

Thurman's awards and decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star with "V" device.

Other Comments:
February 18, 1931 - December 1, 1995

"Do not stand by my grave and weep ... I am not there; I do not sleep. When you awaken in the morning's hush, I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds circling in flight. Do not stand by my grave and cry ... I am not there. I did not die."
 -- Royster


Retired Army General Maxwell Thurman, who led the 1989 invasion of Panama and was a principal architect of the all-volunteer Army, died Friday, December 1, 1995, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Thurman, 64, had been diagnosed with leukemia in 1990.

Dubbed "Mad Max" and "Maxatollah" by colleagues for his aggressive style, Thurman delayed his retirement at the request of the Bush administration so he could spearhead the effort to oust General Manuel Noriega's regime.

General John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Thurman "a remarkable soldier" who loved the Army. "He was a visionary who carved out a path for the Army of today and, by doing so, showed us courage, talent, intelligence and strength of character," Shalikashvili said.

Thurman was named commander of the US Southern Command, based at Quarry Heights, Panama, in September 1989. Responsible for US forces in South and Central America, Thurman pledged at the time to confront "tyranny in all its insidious forms." He was widely credited with persuading the Pentagon leadership and the Bush dministration to use military force against Noriega's regime.


Thurman retired in February 1991 after a 37-year career. He had learned he had an aggressive form of leukemia in July 1990. The general made his reputation as an aggressive, take-charge commander -- a man known, in the words of one officer, for "driving his staff crazy because he was a bachelor and the guy never went home."

Born Feb 18, 1931, in High Point, NC, he was a graduate of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, where he enrolled in ROTC and got his officer's commission. Thurman held a variety of staff and command positions in Europe and the United States, and served in Vietnam, first as a corps intelligence adviser and later as commander of the 2nd Battalion, 35th Field Artillery, during the Tet offensive. That 1968 battle was considered a public disaster for the United States but a tactical victory in the field for US forces.

He held numerous key Army posts, including vice chief of staff and commanding general of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Virginia, before taking the top spot at Southern Command. Thurman headed the Army's Recruiting Command at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, where he worked to develop the service's "Be all that you can be" campaign. It was during these years, in the mid-1980s that Thurman is credited with vastly improving the quality of the average soldier. Under Thurman's guidance, according to an Army release, "the modern professional Army we now possess came into existence."

Thurman is survived by his brother, retired Army Lieutenant General John R. Thurman III of Alexandria, Virginia. He is to be buried Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery. (Section 30)

Thurman's image as a workaholic - captured by the nickname "Mad Max" - was as widespread as his reputation as a master organizer. His credits include reversing the downward slide of Army recruiting and commanding the 1989 invasion of Panama. Thurman was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia while still commander in chief of US Southern Command shortly after Operation Just Cause, which ousted strongman Manuel Noriega. He conducted SOUTHCOM business from his hospital bed at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after he was admitted for treatment in July 1990.

He retired from active duty in February 1991. But in between returns to the hospital for treatment, he kept a rigorous schedule of travel to conferences and speaking engagements, taking every opportunity to talk with or about soldiers and the Army. That retirement was his second. He had one foot out the door in September 1989, when he was set to retire as commanding general of US Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Instead, he was called to the Pentagon and given charge over the US multi-service command in Panama. His elaborate invasion plan involved conventional and special operations forces from units in the United States as well as Panama which overwhelmed Noreiga's forces.

Before serving as vice chief of staff and top personnel officer, Thurman was commanding general of US Army Recruiting Command. When he took command in 1979, enlisting was generally viewed as an option for slackers. Behind the slogan, "Be all you can be," Thurman was able to blot out that perception and begin a trend of attracting high-quality recruits. A graduate of North Carolina State University and commissioned in Field Artillery, Thurman served two tours in Vietnam, including a battalion command. His decorations and awards over his 37-year career include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star for valor. Section 30, Grave 416-A-LH, Arlington National Cemetery.

 VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 03/01/1947 - 03/01/1991
DATE OF BIRTH: 02/18/1931
 DATE OF DEATH: 11/30/1995


One of the men most responsible for the Army's positive image and success through the 1980s succumbed to lengthy bout with cancer. Retired General Maxwell Reid Thurman died December 1, 1995 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. He was 64. A funeral service will be held on December 7, 1995 at the Fort Myer, Virginia, chapel, followed by interment at Arlington National Cemetery. 
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 Enlisted/Officer Basic Training
  1949, (Select in Colleges) (ROTC), B
 Unit Assignments
11th Airborne DivisionA Battery, 377th ArtilleryMilitary Assistance Command Vietnam MACVUnited States Military Academy West Point (Staff)
Command and General Staff College (CGSC) Resident Course2nd Battalion, 35th Field Artillery 2nd Field Force Vietnam (II Field Force)Army War College (Staff)
US Army Recruiting Command (USAREC)Department of the Army (DA)US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC)United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM)
  1954-1958, 11th Airborne Division
  1957-1958, A Battery, 377th Artillery
  1961-1963, Field Advisory Element MACV
  1963-1966, United States Military Academy West Point (Staff)
  1966-1967, Command and General Staff College (CGSC) Resident Course
  1967-1968, 2nd Battalion, 35th Field Artillery
  1967-1968, 23rd Artillery Group
  1967-1968, 2nd Field Force Vietnam (II Field Force)
  1968-1970, Army War College (Staff)
  1979-1981, US Army Recruiting Command (USAREC)
  1981-1983, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (ODCSPER)
  1983-1987, Office of the Army Vice Chief of Staff
  1987-1989, HQ, US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC)
  1989-1991, United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM)
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1958-1958 Operation Bluebat (Lebanon)
  1962-1963 Vietnam War/Advisory Campaign (1962-65)
  1967-1967 Vietnam War/Counteroffensive Phase II Campaign (1966-67)
  1967-1968 Vietnam War/Counteroffensive Phase III Campaign (1967-68)
  1968-1968 Vietnam War/Tet Counteroffensive Campaign (1968)
  1968-1968 Vietnam War/Tet Counteroffensive Campaign (1968)
  1968-1969 Vietnam War/Counteroffensive Phase VI Campaign (1968-69)
 Colleges Attended 
North Carolina State University
  1949-1953, North Carolina State University
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