The story of the friendship between a Mohawk man and his Army buddy came full circle this year when Frank Cushman’s daughter visited her dad’s friend, John Signes.
RoseMarie Light and her husband, Jim, flew out to California on Feb. 21 to visit Signes. Light said her father had often talked about the friend he had met while serving in World War II and he and Signes stayed in touch, but they never saw each other again after the war ended in 1945. Signes spoke to Cushman on the telephone shortly before his death in 2010 and sent a piece he had written as a tribute to be read at Cushman’s funeral.
After that, Light became friends with Signes via emails and telephone calls and decided to visit him in her father’s stead.
After their plane landed in California, Light and her husband drove 46 miles south to Vista. “It was to be the reunion that never took place between the two men and although my dad, Frank, was not to ever get to see John again after the war, I felt he would definitely be there in spirit,” said Light.
Signes and his family had planned a welcome party for the couple at his small apartment there. When the Lights finally found the building and parked the car, they climbed out to hear voices saying, “There they are! They are here!”
“We looked in that direction and saw a group of three people standing next to the building, including a tiny little man with his arms outstretched to us,” Rosemarie Light recalls. “I took off running to them and was immediately caught in a giant hug from a man who appeared to be much younger than his 87 years. This was my father’s ‘John’ who looked very much the same as he did in the photo of 1945, but just a little older.”
Signes showed them a thick photo album. Among the photos was “their actual battleship that was the first to pull into Normandy,” said RoseMarie Light. “He said he and my dad were amongst the very first soldiers who jumped off into the water in the attack — neither knowing how to swim,” she said.
His wartime experiences left Signes with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, she added.
“The pictures of the Sherman tanks were pretty surprising,” according to Light. “He said he and my dad used to heat a can of Spam on the engine compartment for dinner. He has shared bits and pieces more in emails, but not many. He spent a bit of time reviewing the photos, but after awhile became very upset. It is too much for him to think about and he finds it difficult to talk about.”
Light and her mother, Mary, put together a photo album for Signes. The purpose was “to fill in the blanks in between the 67 years that he and my dad hadn’t seen each other,” Light said. “It began with the marriage of my parents, Mary and Frank, and continued on with them building their family, the two homes they had through the years and mostly my dad in photos showing him as he was — a kind and loving father and a wonderful grandfather.”
Page 2 of 2 - She added, “John really loved the photo album and looks at it every day.”
The following day, the Lights drove to Vista to see Signes once more and say good-bye.
“I had wanted to give him something tangible that would provide a link to my dad in some way, something that would make him feel close to the brother-in-heart that was his closest friend in life, ‘his right arm to his left’ as he had put it,” said Light. She finally decided to take Signes an afghan, handcrafted by an artist, that she had given her dad as a Christmas gift many years ago. “On this beautiful blanket was a picture of a fisherman casting out, with hat and gear on, standing in gorgeous scenery much like that of the places in Old Forge where my dad had loved to fish. The man pictured on the blanket looked just like my dad.”
When she gave Signes the gift bag, he said he was “not a very good receiver,” Light recalled. “I answered that the gift was not from me, but it was from my dad, ‘Cush,’ as John and everyone else called him way back when, so I said he had to accept it. When he opened it up and I helped him lift it out of the bag, I decided to wrap it around him. He could hardly speak. It was a beautiful moment and I told him that now he could have my dad with him all the time when he needed him.
“The blanket rests on Signes’ sofa, where he tells us that he frequently runs his hand over it in a loving gesture and knows he now has his brother back with him.”
Light added the family continues to stay in contact with Signes. “He wants us to know that we are on ‘home ground’ whenever we decide to return to California,” she said. “As I told John, he is a bridge to heaven for me and I feel my dad was truly instrumental in a spiritual sense in putting us together, in having John vicariously pick up where my dad left off on March 5, 2010. I feel so very blessed to have finally met the long-lost comrade who shared such a bond with my dad, Frank, a bond that even death cannot break.”