From serving in Army military intelligence in Germany during the Cold War, to 10 years serving as a chaplain to U.S. Presidents in Washington; an 87 year old Rapid City man has quite a life story.
One of the first things you notice about Herb Cleveland is he loves to smile. He was born in North Dakota's Red River Valley and since then has lived a life worthy of a novel. We pick it up here:
"I went to college, had a good 1st year, and I was in ROTC, and I enjoyed the ROTC classes and everything but my checking account did not look good," Cleveland says.
So in 1952, he left school, enlisted in the Army, and soon he would be in one of the hottest spots in the Cold War: Germany.
Cleveland worked in military intelligence, but was not a spy.
At the time there were US troops on the West side and Russian troops on the East side.
Herb Cleveland says, "We were concerned that they would attack us. They were concerned that we would attack them. It was that tense," Herb remembers.
Cleveland was stationed in Frankfurt
"I simply interpreted what they brought to us, the sources, the spies, so," he explains.
Part of his work involved being a courier. He'd be flown on a military plane from Frankfurt to Berlin. He would carry a leather briefcase containing secret or top secret documents, and never given any idea what was inside.
"Deliver our package and it'd be fastened to our wrists and when we'd deliver it in Berlin, well the person there would have the right key and they'd take it right off," Cleveland says.
He would passing the briefcase on to someone on the American side. Herb would take the train back to Frankfurt. He was in Germany from 1953 to 55, the rest of his enlisted career.
After his service he went home to the US, marrying his wife Connie in 1955. They've now been married 62 years, raising 4 kids together. Herb says he went back to college, got his degree, then went on to get his Master of Divinity. That ends one early chapter in his life.
Now, we fast forward to a much later one. Herb had gone into ministry serving as a pastor and chaplain in a variety of capacities for most of his adult life, leading to this:
"After I'd been chaplain with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs then I was selected to go to Washington DC and at 1st I was the Deputy Chief of Chaplains and then I became the Chief of Chaplains," he explains.
He was Chief of Chaplains for the VA for the entire United States.
And while living in Washington, Herb would serve 3 U.S. Presidents, being occasionally called on, to pray for certain situations.
Presidents are of course, historic figures.
These are his observations, beginning with the late President Ronald Reagan.
"We were always briefed to, do not extend your hand, do not speak and do not move while you are with the President on the dais or in the room. Only respond if he speaks to you or if Mrs. Reagan speaks to you. That was the briefing and I'll remember that for all my life because publicly on television they're very, very friendly gregarious looking, and that was the good training from Hollywood," Herb says.
Next, are his observations of President George HW Bush.
"He was very, very light, very gregarious, I call it, and big heavy hand shake, ya know. And like to pat you on the back," he says.
He also shared his observations about late First Lady Barbara Bush.
"Barbara was very much, 'Oh it's so good to see you' and 'Thank you being here' and 'Let's go into the Roosevelt Room' and, 'Let's go into the this room and we'll talk about something here'," Herb recalls.
He also had nice things to say about President Bill and First Lady Hillary Clinton.
"The same thing was true of President Clinton and his wife and his staff, they were very, very open and just grab you and slap you on the back, 'How are you today?', ya know, that kind of thing. Big heavy handshakes," he shares.
"Mrs. Clinton was very, very much right focused on you and talk to you, always had questions about where are you from, what do you think about this?," he says.
He was only with the Presidents a handful of times each. One of those times was preceding a historic move.
"The prayer for the day of the invasion under President Bush for the Middle East,
and praying for the safety of our troops, and the advisors and those who were doing this tremendous effort," Cleveland recalls.
That prayer, with President George H.W. Bush, and the cabinet, took place *before* the invasion took place.
Herb spent 10 years in Washington, leaving in 1993.
Not bad for a guy who couldn't originally afford college, but ended up praying with presidents.
In the past 3 years Herb's survived a heart attack, battled off cancer, and while he's been theoretically retired for a long time now, he's still actively doing services where he's needed.
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