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The Telegram
  • Woman to meet father’s WWII buddy

  • When longtime Mohawk resident Frank Cushman died in 2010 at the age of 88, he hadn’t seen his Army buddy, John Signes, since the end of World War II.

    Now his daughter, RoseMarie A. Light, of Fayetteville, is preparing to visit Signes in her father’s stead. On Feb. 21, she and her husband, Jim, plan to fly to Vista, Calif., to meet him.

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  • When longtime Mohawk resident Frank Cushman died in 2010 at the age of 88, he hadn’t seen his Army buddy, John Signes, since the end of World War II.
    Now his daughter, RoseMarie A. Light, of Fayetteville, is preparing to visit Signes in her father’s stead. On Feb. 21, she and her husband, Jim, plan to fly to Vista, Calif., to meet him.
    Light explains her father met Signes during World War II and the two became like brothers, somehow surviving four major battles.
    “When the war ended in 1945, they were never to see each other again,” according to Light. “They kept in touch via letters and phone calls for over 65 years. My dad was afraid of flying and as John lived in California, the ‘brothers in heart’ were far apart in distance, but never lost the connection that took place on the battlefields many years ago.”
    Cushman died March 5, 2010. “We watched him fight his last major battle, one of old age, emphysema and sepsis, while in the hospital for 12 days,” Light recalls. “It was amazing to all of the doctors and nurses that he was still alive without machinery or any other lifesaving devices after all of his systems had shut down, but somehow he kept hanging on.”
    It was hard on the whole family, Light said, especially her mother, Mary, who never left his side, as well as Light and her husband and her brother, Joe, and his wife.
    “As much as we wanted Dad to recover and go home, we knew it would not happen, but watching him continue his fight each day was heartbreaking,” said Light.
    On the 12th day, Signes phoned Cushman’s room at St. Elizabeth Hospital and asked to speak to him. “We told John that Dad was unable to speak or respond, but he did not care; he wanted to talk to him one last time. He had to say good-bye to my dad, his ‘right arm to his left’ as he called him,” Light said. “We put the phone up to my dad’s ear and we know he must have heard John’s voice; his face flickered with some type of reaction and whatever John said to him was what he needed to be able to let go. He passed away a couple of hours after that phone call.”
    Light had never had any contact with Signes, but he emailed and telephoned her prior to her father’s funeral, sending a piece he had written to be read as a tribute to Cushman.
    “I came to know Frank in 1944 when I, as a young tanker recruit, joined Frank and crew in Talange, France,” Signes wrote. “I was assigned as cannoneer to assist Frank, then gunner of our tank crew.
    Page 2 of 3 - “I couldn’t have asked for a better teammate than Frank. I took to him immediately since his demeanor was more than one could expect in such circumstances: Quietly instructive, a faculty for knowing just how to handle the situation, bar none, in combat; reserved and on target, mentally and physically. I looked up to Frank as my mentor and one could show only respect for such, ‘the fine soldier that he was,’” Signes continued.
    “When hostilities ended, we continued as teammates and I always felt a watchful eye from Frank, looking after my well-being, that I didn’t go astray,” Signes wrote. “My utmost respect at all times for he was truly the best example of a caring human being I have ever known in all these years. Strong, courageous, intelligent with a big hears. My life and love go out to one of the best friends I could ever have in this life.”
    Light said her husband, Jim, read the piece at her father’s funeral “and there was not a dry eye anywhere.”
    Since then, Light has become friends with Signes via emails and phone calls and learned more about her father’s past than he had been able to share.
    “My dad never spoke of the war until he was 80 years old after taking the World War II veterans trip (to the World War II memorial) in the fall of 2004,” she said.
    After that trip, he opened up about his service and spoke at local high schools, even filming a video about his experiences.
    He enlisted in the U.S. Army Jan. 2, 1942, and served as a corporal with the Third Division, Company C. 610 Tank Destroyer Battalion in Northern France, Ardennes, Central Europe and Normandy. He received a Certificate of Merit from the State of New York for Achievement in Operations in World War II and a bronze medal for Efficiency, Honor and Fidelity. He attributed his survival to a cross his mother gave him when he left home to join the Army.
    After the war, Cushman married, worked for Remington Rand and later Union Fork and Hoe. In 1960, he decided to build a home from the ground up. It is still standing in rural Mohawk.
    He had quit school in ninth grade to help on the farm, but in June 2001, he and three other World War II veterans received their high school diplomas from Ilion High School.
    Light added that Signes has served as a bridge to her father’s past as he set old photos showing the two as young men.
    Now Light is preparing to meet Signes in person. She and her mother, Mary, who still resides on Bushnell Street in Mohawk, are preparing items for Light to take on the trip “to try to span the gap of 67 years and to meet this remarkable man.”
    Page 3 of 3 - ———
    RoseMarie Light plans to follow up on this story after she returns from her trip.
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