Cleveland, 28, lost his adoptive mother in 2012, and his adoptive father was bedridden.
His brother, Christopher Cleveland, has been his rock.
On Thursday, the two men shared a hug inside the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center auditorium, with 200 soldiers and veterans applauding the family for the sacrifices it made during the Afghanistan war.
“My brother holds a very special place in my heart,” the Army specialist said. The public embrace was a last-minute decision he made before the ceremony to surprise his brother.
“When you‘re family, you stick together and find ways to lift up each other,” he said.
Cleveland, a resident of Warrenville, said his brother’s support has been instrumental in his healing.
On June 19, Cleveland, a member of the South Carolina National Guard’s 122nd Engineering Battalion, was the gunner during an ambush just outside the gate of Combat Outpost McClain in Afghanistan.
His mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle sustained five direct hits from rocket-propelled grenades that knocked the truck to the side of the road.
Cleveland’s right shoulder was dislocated, and he suffered a traumatic brain injury. He was flown to Bagram Airfield for initial treatment and then medically evacuated to Germany.
He has been recovering ever since as a member of the Fort Gordon Warrior Transition Battalion, with his brother; his wife, Jessica; and his 8-year-old son, Jesse, by his side.
“I am just glad he is home and thankful for his training,” brother Chris Cleveland said after the ceremony, which almost brought him to tears. “Our Army has done a great job preparing our men and women, and there are many other soldiers like Josh who are deserving of this honor.”
Cleveland is the first soldier to receive the Purple Heart at Eisenhower in the past 18 months.
The award was created as the Badge of Military Merit by George Washington to forever revere the “common soldier” who gave his blood in defense of the homeland.
Brig. Gen. John Morrison Jr., the commanding officer of the 7th Signal Command, led Thursday’s ceremony and said Cleveland represents all soldiers.
“He did what American soldiers do,” Morrison said. “He fought as a team and reacted with bravery.”
Cleveland said he is appreciative of the support and blessings in his life.
“It couldn’t have been worse than it was,” he said of the assault. “I could have never made it home, other than in a box.”