John Holloway Cushman
John Holloway Cushman
  • October 3, 1921 - November 8, 2017
  • Washington, District Of Columbia

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In Memory of

LTG (Ret) John Holloway Cushman

October 3, 1921 - November 8, 2017


In Memoriam
John H. Cushman (October 3, 1921 - November 8, 2017)
Lieut. Gen. John H. Cushman (ret.), who in 1944 led the Army's graduating cadets as they
marched to war from West Point on D-Day, and in 1977 strode the tense Korean DMZ as a corps
commander bolstering the defenses of Seoul, died at the Knollwood military retirement residence
in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 8 after a stroke. He was 96.
General Cushman, in his 35 years of active duty, was at first an engineer, building bridges and
air strips in the Pacific islands and atom bombs in New Mexico's deserts before switching to the
infantry, a truer path for his soldier's compass.
Jack Cushman, as he was known, left lasting marks on the Army, his milieu from infancy.
Shaping its doctrine, promoting its ethics, and evoking the responsibilities of its commanders, he
built a record of selfless courage, stubborn conviction, and sterling conscience.
The son of an officer, he married Nancy Troland, an officer's daughter, and they raised a family
of seven children, their pride multiplying to dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
After Nancy died at Knollwood, where they had lived together for many years, he remained,
surrounded by longtime friends and comrades in arms.
There, he privately published a comprehensive memoir, much of it accessible online in military
archives and oral histories, including at the United States Military Academy, an institution he
revered and succored. He will be buried at West Point following a service on November 30.
Vietnam is his chronicle's fulcrum; Cushman served three tours there.
During the second, he commanded the 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division during
months of round-the-clock combat in 1968 on the outskirts of Hue. In 1972, as the war drew to a
close, he took over the 101st when it came home. As commanding general of the Screaming
Eagles, he rebuilt the division from scratch into the first all-volunteer outfit of today's Army.
After retirement, he influenced the landmark Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, providing
firsthand insights to military reformers in Congress as they reshaped the Pentagon's high
command. He wrote insightfully about the command and control of forces in the field - and
pointedly when he saw failures of command, such as those in Iraq.
"Smart, dedicated, and thoughtful, General Cushman stands as a model of an Army officer, and
especially of an Army general," said Tom Ricks, a military correspondent, analyst and author of
The Generals .
A retired enlisted man made the point more vividly in a heartfelt, hand-scrawled letter recalling
the day in 1967 when Cushman, as a colonel, flew to embattled troops near Cu Chi and ordered
his own helicopter's crew to evacuate the casualties - "Take these boys home!" - while he
"Sir, that was the finest act I saw by an officer in Vietnam," wrote Harry R. Adams Jr. "You
gained the respect of the finest men in the world, the common foot-soldier."
John Holloway Cushman was born in Tientsin, China, in 1921, the son of Captain Horace Oscar
Cushman and Kathleen O'Neill Cushman. A bright child, he skipped through the grades and
entered high school so young, he would say, that he was still wearing short pants. After
graduating, he earned paychecks despite his youth and the Depression's plights, selling tires in
Washington and running errands on Wall Street until he was old enough to enlist in 1940, just
after war broke out in Europe. His hope had always been to attend West Point. The Army sent
him there, a distinctive appointment. His selection was apt; he became Captain of the Corps, the
ranking cadet.
The Military Academy is a place of duty and honor, discipline and drill, and he embraced its
code wholeheartedly - but his independent streak survived, and as he matured he became
something of a maverick.
His thinking was half a step off the Army's cadence, for example, when he arrived in the 1950s,
after a tour in Europe, at the doctrinal school at Fort Leavenworth, where he had lived as a
teenager and where he would one day assume command. In those days the Army was trying to
figure out how to equip its regular field units with atomic weapons. "We charged ahead as if this
was just another weapon," he recalled. He almost failed a course in combat operations, he said,
"perhaps rebelling because it seemed to be less than believable."
"I like to have my own way, I am stubborn. When I'm right, I really don't like to change," he
told an oral historian. "I've got a headstrong streak."
Sometimes his different drumbeat would prevail, as in 1962, when as an aide to Army Secretary
Cyrus Vance he pressed the Army's growing role in aviation, principally the use of helicopters.
He wore his master paratrooper's wings with pride, but the helicopter gave him fingertip control
in command. Once, he even flew out to sea to touch down on the Navy amphibious vessel Iwo
Jima, establishing a beachhead off Cambodia - extraordinary in 1970.
His unarmed light observation helicopter was not much more than the flying bubbles that TV
stations send to traffic jams. After Tet, 1968, he flew it repeatedly into hostile fire, for hours each
day, dodging flares at night, in countless harrowing moments. He earned five combat decorations
in four months: the Air Medal with "V", the Bronze Star with "V", the Distinguished Flying
Cross, and the Silver Star, twice.
In one engagement, a platoon was pinned down and surrounded, the lieutenant knocked out,
raked by incessant fire, grenades and bullets all but used up. A medevac helicopter flew in to
save five wounded men. The enemy shot it down. Sergeant First Class Timothy W. O'Conner
gave the order to fix bayonets. Cushman flew straight into the fray. A pistol on his hip, he
delivered the ammunition himself, and himself flew out the wounded.
"I tried to wave you off but you kept coming," Sergeant O'Connor wrote in a 1994 letter. "If it
wasn't for your bravery probably all of us would have died that day."
Yet when a Wall Street Journal reporter accompanying him on his hike along Korea's DMZ
asked him about the aviator's pistol in his holster, he said he had never pulled it out in combat.
"That's not my job and not my style," he said. His job was to