In Portsmouth: ‘This is one Veterans Day I will never forget’

PHS Band, Thriving Tree pay tribute to veterans on lawn overlooking Blue Bill Cove

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PORTSMOUTH — George Cushman was pumped up.

The 90-year-old Army veteran shook his fist and waved other veterans over to join him in front of the Portsmouth High School Marching Band before stepping off on a brief parade from Stone Bridge to Thriving Tree Coffee House.

“Get over here now, or I’ll kick your butts!” Cushman yelled to his brothers and sisters in arms. 

They did as they were told.

A few minutes later, after the band played “God Bless America” on the restaurant’s back lawn overlooking Blue Bill Cove and the Mount Hope Bridge, Cushman yelled down to band members, telling them to remember they were “Patriots” and to always try their best.

And when the young musicians were finished with the mix of patriotic and classic rock songs they came to perform, Cushman walked down to share some advice with them: Please never stop playing your instruments, he told them. 

Cushman took piano lessons for six years before the military lured him away many years ago, he later told a reporter. That happened when he was a sophomore in college and living in Laguna Beach, Calif. 

“We had a 40-foot cliff in front of us to the beach, with stairs down. I heard this airplane and I looked to my left,” he said.

The plane couldn’t have been more than 50 feet above the beach at one point, and flew right in front of the family home, he said. 

“I could have thrown a rock and hit it. It was a PBY Catalina anti-submarine warfare patrol plane. I could see the pilot and the co-pilot in the cockpit,” Cushman said.

Then he made the decision that would change the course of his life.

“I said, ‘Well, I want to quit the piano,’” he said. “After a discussion with my parents, they both looked at me and said, ‘Alright, if you really want to. But we both want to tell you one thing,’ and they said four words I’ve never forgotten: ‘You will regret it.’

“Oh, how true it was. I think about how much music could have been added to my life.”

Cushman has no regrets about his military service, however, as it presented him with opportunities he otherwise couldn’t have pursued, he said.

He attained the rank of Army corporal and served time in Korea, but fortunately never saw combat. He returned to finish his studies at Brown University and earned a master’s degree in natural science from the University of South Dakota. He later taught math and geology at a prep school for 22 years, and then volunteered as a sports photographer at Portsmouth Abbey before retiring for good.

On Thursday, Cushman was taking it all in at Thriving Tree, where owner Kristen Kidd gave away free meatball subs to veterans and hung a huge American flag above the property. PHS Band Director Ted Rausch said it was the first time in the 20 years he's led the group that students had the opportunity to perform at a Veterans Day event, and they were grateful for the honor.

Cushman — at one point he was handed a colorful handmade note that read “You Are Great! Thank You” by a little girl whom he didn’t know — was visibly moved by the tribute.

“This is one Veterans Day I will never forget,” he said.

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