REDDING – Retired Major John E. Cleckner, Sr., who matched his decorated career in Army Special Forces with a lifelong dedication in retirement to helping military veterans, died May 11 in Redding. He was 81.
Cleckner served 22 years, two months in the Infantry, including tours of duty in Vietnam. He received a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars among his many honors.
In retirement he settled in Redding, where he served on, and in many cases organized, boards and commissions of organizations that benefitted veteran and community causes. Cleckner wrote the concept and proposed the legislation that led to the creation of the Veterans Home in Redding, which is operated by the California Department of Veterans Affairs. Cleckner also established the Northern California chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart as well as Special Forces Association Chapter 89.
He championed veterans healthcare, securing a VA outpatient medical clinic in Redding, and worked with the VA to provide emergency care for veterans at local medical centers. When Cleckner couldn’t find pro bono legal help for veterans, he returned to college and, at 62, earned his fifth college degree; this one as a legal assistant so that he could help veterans with their legal issues. Cleckner served as President George H.W. Bush’s local chairman for ceremonies welcoming home Gulf War veterans in 1991.
Among his greatest legacies is the Northern California Veterans Cemetery in Igo, which he shepherded from concept to completion and it is now the final resting place for 7,500 veterans and their spouses. Cleckner will join his brothers and sisters in arms in Igo on May 21 at 2:30 p.m. He is survived by wife, Doris; 8 children, 14 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren.