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CAP Remembers Inspiring Message on National Physical Fitness Day

April 30, 2021

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Clifton E. Cushman in the 1960s. (Source: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund)

by Capt. Brandon Lunsford, CAP, Oklahoma Wing

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (May 1, 2021) – Clifton Emmett "Cliff" Cushman joined Civil Air Patrol as a cadet in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in the mid-1950s. A high school and collegiate track star, Cushman was an NCAA individual and track and field team champion at the University of Kansas. In 1960 he commissioned as a U.S. Air Force second lieutenant and won the silver medal in the 400-meter hurdles in the Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy.

A stumble at the 1964 U.S. Olympic Team trials in Los Angeles, however, cost him a chance for gold. After failing to qualify, the former CAP cadet penned an open letter to the youth of Grand Forks, challenging them to strive to become better citizens.

“Over 15 years ago I saw a star,” Cushman stated in his letter. “First place in the Olympic Games. I literally started to run after it. In 1960 I came within three yards of grabbing it; this year I stumbled, fell and watched it recede four more years away.”

“There is nothing I can do about it now but get up,” he continued. “Pick up the cinders from my wounds and take one more step, followed by one more and one more, until the steps turn into miles and the miles into success.”

Cushman continued by issuing a challenge to the youth.

“I dare you to have your hair cut and not wilt under the comments of your so-called friends. I dare you to clean up your language. I dare you to honor your father and mother. I dare you to go to church without having to be compelled to go by your parents. I dare you to unselfishly help someone less fortunate than yourself and enjoy the wonderful feeling that goes with it. I dare you to become physically fit. I dare you to read a book that is not required in school. I dare you to look up at the stars, not down at the mud and set your sights on one of them that, up until now, you thought was unattainable. There is plenty of room at the top, but no room for anyone to sit down. Who knows? You may be surprised at what you can achieve with sincere effort. So, get up, pick the cinders out of your wounds, and take one more step.”

Undaunted by failing to make the U.S. Olympic Team, Cushman soared higher and deployed to Thailand in August 1966, flying combat missions over North Vietnam. On Sept. 25, his F-105D Thunderchief was shot down northeast of Hanoi.

Missing in action, Cushman was declared dead Nov. 6, 1975. In his brief combat career, he received a Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, two Air Medals and the Purple Heart.

The CAP Cadet Physical Fitness Program is aligned with the Presidential Youth Fitness Program. In keeping with the challenge Cushman issued cadets across the nation in the 1960s, today's program is a comprehensive fitness program that promotes physical activity and fitness for improving the health of America's young people. Individuals who complete the cadet program and meet its physical fitness goals are also physically competitive with military physical training standards and the physical training requirement for military academies.


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About Civil Air Patrol
Now celebrating its 80th year, Civil Air Patrol is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and as such is a member of its Total Force. In its auxiliary role, CAP operates a fleet of 560 single-engine Cessna aircraft and more than 2,000 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) and performs about 90% of all search and rescue operations within the contiguous United States as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. Often using innovative cellphone forensics and radar analysis software, CAP was credited by the AFRCC with saving 130 lives during the past fiscal year. CAP’s 60,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. As a nonprofit organization, CAP plays a leading role in aerospace education using national academic standards-based STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. Members also serve as mentors to 24,000 young people participating in CAP’s Cadet Programs.

Visit www.CAP.News or www.GoCivilAirPatrol.com for more information.

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