POCATELLO, Idaho — Sixty-six years stand between Richard G. Cushman’s tragic death as a prisoner of war in North Korea and his return home.
On Dec. 5, 1950, Army Sgt. 1st Class Cushman was reported missing in action during the Korean War.
On March 31 the following year, Cushman died. He was 19 years old.
Cushman — who was born and raised in Bingham County — never returned home.
His family, however, made sure he was never forgotten. His picture was always displayed. His father, Ralph, would show Richard’s medals — a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, a Good Conduct Medal and a United Nations Korea Medal — and tell the stories behind them.
Newspaper clippings that informed the Southeast Idaho community about Richard’s exploits in the war were kept and maintained. And on Richard’s birthday, the family would have a cake for the soldier who never came back.
“It’s something that I know has, I almost want to say, has haunted my dad’s family,” said Tera Barrera, daughter of the late John Cushman, who was Richard’s half-brother. “He was very important to my dad and his family, and his parents never forgot him.”
Barrera and her mother, Kathryn Cushman — who married John — reside in Los Angeles. When they learned Richard’s remains had been identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, they knew there would finally be a conclusion — 66 years after Richard’s death.
“To not have that closure throughout your entire life, to know this now that his remains have been found and we can finally put him to rest, I really wish my dad was here to witness this,” Barrera told the Idaho State Journal. “It’s monumental.”
Richard was born Feb. 29, 1932, in Moreland, and enlisted on May 13, 1949. He was a tank gunner assigned to the 72nd tank battalion, second division. In July, his unit was deployed to Korea.
Over a year later in early September 1950, Richard’s heroic acts earned him the prestigious Silver Star medal, the U.S. military’s fifth-highest personal decoration.
While fighting in the region of Yongsan, Korea, Richard volunteered for a patrol whose objective was to move through territory recently overrun by enemy forces. While on the patrol, Richard manned a .50-caliber anti-aircraft machine gun on the rear deck of his tank.
Though the position exposed him to extreme small arms fire from the front and the sides, Richard continued to man the machine gun, maintaining heavy fire in support of the infantry. Because of Richard’s actions, the tank patrol helped halt enemy forces while the infantry established a new defensive front, which effectively stopped the enemy’s advances.
Four days later, Richard again operated the .50-caliber gun while allied troops attacked a well-defended enemy position. Though anti-tank guns struck Richard’s tank seven times and he was under intense small arms fire, he continued his attack, eventually aiding in the accomplishment of the mission. His actions also resulted in the recovery of two dead American soldiers.
That account of Richard’s gallant and fearless actions was in a letter from the United States Department of War to Richard’s family, which was printed in a local newspaper.
That same letter, however, went on to inform the family that there had been no word from Richard since early the following December.
That is when, it is believed, Richard was captured. He died almost four months later.
“The story that I have heard is that he made a pact with some of his other comrades,” Kathryn said. “And that if any of them did get out that they would go to the family. And one of the kids did get out, and he did go and speak to (Richard’s) parents and told them what had happened and how he had died. … He basically starved to death. He got a stomach infection and couldn’t eat. I don’t know any other information on his time as a POW.”
After Richard’s death, time went on. His father eventually passed away, as did his stepmother, Juanita Cushman, who effectively raised Richard as her own son. His half-brother, John, died in 2000 and is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Cypress, California.
Those who so longed for closure — for Richard’s remains to be brought back to them — passed away before they could receive it. But the profound significance of his return is not lost on Barrera and Kathryn.
Richard’s remains are currently being held in Hawaii. But they’ll soon be transferred to Barrera’s older sister and buried next to her father, where they will finally be put to proper rest.
“My dad actually has a plot right next to him that we purchased a long time ago,” Barrera said. “I’ll feel happy and relieved for him that we’re able to bury (Richard) next to my dad, and I think that’s something my dad would want. And I think that’s something that my grandparents would want. Unfortunately, they’re not here, but as my dad’s daughter, I need to carry that on and need to follow through with this for his sake.”