Maxey Gilleland is a war hero, a U.S. patriot. Some say he’s a real-life
G.I. Joe. In fact, the Vietnam veteran and undercover agent for the
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will share his brushes with death and his
passion to serve his country when he speaks on the campus of Bluefield
College for Media Appreciation Day, Friday, April 12.
For the third consecutive year, Bluefield College will host its annual
Media Appreciation Day, designed to recognize local journalists who “help
tell the BC story.”
“For years, the college has depended on the media to share its stories,
and for years the area¹s dedicated journalists have responded,” said Chris
Shoemaker, BC¹s director of public relations. “For that, we are grateful.
That is why we are committed to dedicating a day on the BC campus to
recognize the work that local reporters do for Bluefield College.”
The annual Media Day will begin at noon on April 12 with a luncheon in
Shott Hall, followed by a roundtable discussion between local media
representatives, BC communication students and Gilleland, the Media Day
Gilleland, a winner of four Purple Hearts and two Bronze stars for his
service during three tours in Vietnam, has been impaled by bamboo spears in
an enemy booby trap, tossed about in a chopper crash, hurled to Earth in a
crashing airplane, and shot in the head three times. He has lived to tell
the tales, and will do so during BC’s Media Day.
Gilleland will also share experiences from his 28-year career as an
undercover narcotics agent involved in more than 3,000 undercover drug buys
and 70 hit-man operations. He will explain his desire to continue to serve
the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation despite his near-death encounters.
And, he will discuss law enforcement’s challenge to deal with today’s drug
His story, according to Bluefield College professor of history Dr. John
Tresch, who taught Gilleland while he was a student at Belmont University in
Nashville, Tennessee, is one in which the media and community will not want
“I still have the letters from our correspondence during his time in
Vietnam, and we have corresponded on occasion during recent years,” Dr.
Tresch said. “Maxey has a story in which our students and the people of the
community need to hear.”
To say that Gilleland has stared death in the face, that he has guts of
steel, that he has nine lives and that he has served his country well, is
too obvious. To say that he is an undercover agent who is begging to come
back for more is too crazy, according to everyone but Gilleland.
“I’m 52 years old, but I still have a lot to contribute,” Gilleland
said. “I still have something to give back to my community.”
So, why is that crazy? Well, Gilleland was 19, in college, a minister’s
son, when he joined the United States Marines and began his series of
brushes with death. He went to Vietnam in 1967. Four months later he was
shot in the arm. He recovered and was back in Company D six months later,
walking into an enemy ambush, trying to dodge fire when he stepped in a
booby trap where bamboo spears pierced his stomach, foot and thigh.
Gilleland was saved a second time, earning his second Purple Heart and a
ticket home, if he wanted it. He didn’t. Instead he volunteered for another
tour, and not long after while in combat, he was hurled from a shot-down
chopper and blasted with shrapnel and gunfire. Again, he survived.
Gilleland would finally leave Vietnam behind in 1973, not long after
earning the Navy Cross, a high military honor. He joined the Tennessee
Bureau of Investigation as an undercover narcotics agent to help stem the
drug tide of the 1970s. The undercover work, he said, was as dangerous as
the war, where “if you’re discovered, you’re dead” and where “a $100 crack
buy is more dangerous than a $100,000 drug buy” and where “every answer or
move can mean life or death.” But, just like the Marines, Gilleland’s good
“He has an innate ability to work in these (undercover) situations,”
said TBI director Larry Wallace. “He’s been one of the most effective agents
in the history of the TBI. A number of people are in the prison system
because of him.”
But, of course, Gilleland’s adventures with the TBI could not go without
the near-death experiences. He survived a plane crash in the 1980s, but his
most recent and closest of all came in January of 2000. In a drug buy gone
bad, four buyers opened fire on Gilleland. He took one bullet in the back of
the head and one in his left temple that traveled down his face, through his
eye socket and into his mouth. Somehow, the bullets missed his brain, and
Gilleland, again, survived. Eight surgeries later, as crazy as it sounds,
he’s waiting for clearance from his doctors to return to work for the TBI.
After all, as he says, he still has a lot to contribute.
Gilleland follows NASCAR Magazine editor David Bourne and nationally
syndicated columnist Jim Davidson as speakers for BC¹s Media Appreciation
Day. For more information, please call the BC Office of Public Relations at