Command Sergeant Major Donald Cameron Cubbison III, U.S. Army (Retired), a decorated soldier who served his country for 35 years in war and in peace, died April 3, 2015, at his home in Irvine, Calif. He was 79.
He was a son, husband, father, brother, uncle, grandfather, friend. Donald was all of these things — and so many more. Soldier. Mentor. Advocate. Inspiration. Confidant. Upholder of principle. Leader of men and women.
During eight remarkable decades, he won the love, praise and gratitude of thousands, from his closest family members to the greenest Army recruit fresh out of basic training.
Don was born on June 28, 1935, in Chattanooga, Tenn., the son and grandson of West Point graduates. He enlisted in the Army in Harrisburg, Pa., just before his 19th birthday, right after graduating from high school in 1954. He embarked on a 35-year military career that would take him around the world and see him rise to the Army’s highest ranks for enlisted personnel.
He did four tours of duty in Vietnam, once sustaining shrapnel injuries at Cu Chi and suffering a broken leg in a motorcycle accident in Saigon. He served as command sergeant major at posts including Fort Dix, N.J., Wiesbaden, Wurzburg and Bad Kreuznach, Germany, Camp Zama, Japan, and Fort Stewart, Ga., among other places. He was on the short list to become Command Sergeant Major of the entire U.S. Army.
He was three times awarded the Bronze Star, one of them “for outstanding meritorious service in connection with ground operations against a hostile force” during decisive periods in the Vietnam war that included the enemy’s Tet Offensive in 1968.”His performance of duty was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Army and reflects great credit upon himself,” read the citation from the headquarters of the U.S. Military Assistance Command. He earned many other honors: the Legion of Merit, Army Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with 13 stars; the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit Citation; the Army Service Ribbon and the Joint Service Commendation Medal.
Consider these words about Don from Maj. Gen. R. Dean Tice, a top commander of the 3d Infantry Division in Germany in 1979: “I know of no other noncommissioned officer in the United States Army, or officer for that matter, who could have had such an impact on this organization. In short order he gained the total support and respect of the soldiers, noncommissioned officers and officers of the 3d Infantry Division. … CSM Cubbison, with his ability to write and speak, is in a league of his own. … In sum, CSM Cubbison is the most outstanding NCO that I know. … He would be the logical selection for Sergeant Major of the Army –CSM Cubbison is that good.”
But beyond the medals, the citations and the admiration of the brass came something far deeper– the loyalty, respect and affection he earned from the soldiers he led and transformed.
Three who worked for him reflect on the life and legacy of Donald Cubbison
“Unequivocally, he was the most professional soldier I ever met in my 26-year career.”
Barb Benner Bacon:
“All the best things that have happened in my life can be traced back to that pivotal time when Donald Cubbison took an interest in me. He saw potential that no one else saw. … His influence, mentorship, patience and unwavering leadership shaped the person that I am today.”
Wendra Toll Johnson:
“For many reasons, the Army changed the trajectory of my life. Mostly because I had the great fortune to work for a man who taught me about the love of country and the duty of a soldier, that honor and respect matter, and the importance of perseverance. He filled a fatherly role, showing me guidance, support, love and laughter when I needed it most.”
In Don’s final years, his love for and loyalty to the United States military — and especially the Army — remained unswerving. One of his daughter Donna’s close friends has a son who had joined the Marine Corps and was departing for bootcamp. Anne asked Donna whether Don would talk with Jordan about what military life is like. Don not only agreed — he wrote out extensive notes on 3×5 cards. Among the advice Don gave Jordan was the supreme importance of perseverance. Above all else, beyond the inevitable scrapes and setbacks, Don told him, “Press on.” Jordan has just begun his first deployment as a United States Marine. And, oh, yes, he also got a fresh tattoo. He sent a photo of it to his mom. On his chest, above his heart, spare, unassuming letters spell out: PRESS ON.
After retiring from the Army, Don quickly plunged into a second career running large glass and metal recycling systems for companies with operations stretching from Oakland to Monterrey, Mexico. He could be found poolside at high schools all over Orange County watching his only grandchild at swim events and water polo games. He also maintained an intense physical regimen, running in marathons and working out for hours at fitness centers well into his 70s, sometimes twice a day.
Don’s survivors include his wife Yvonne Cubbison, of Ashland, Ky.; his son Johnny of Aliso Viejo, CA; his daughter Donna and his granddaughter Sierra Rae Ochoa, both of Irvine, CA; a sister, Paige Cubbison, of Round Rock, TX; and brothers Edwin Cubbison of Stafford, VA., and Christopher Cubbison of Fairfax, VA.
In an Army newspaper column two years before his retirement from the military, Don laid out his philosophy:
“Let’s promote professionalism, radiate responsibility, work friendly and go the extra mile. Let’s really be in charge of our lives, our careers, our family, our homes. Am I asking too much? If you think so, then I would suggest you are in the wrong line of work and should seek other employment opportunities. For if you can’t be in charge — really in charge — of yourself, your job and whatever else comes with the territory, then you can’t be called a professional soldier. And the Army doesn’t need you. …
“So bugler, sound the charge! And if you can’t be in charge, then get out of the way and let someone else do it.”
MEMORIAL SERVICE AND BURIAL:
· A reception will be immediately following the Memorial Service at Donna’s residence.
· Donald will later be interred at Arlington National Cemetery, outside of Washington D.C., the nation’s premier military cemetery and shrine honoring men and women who served in the Armed Forces.
Should friends and family desire, expressions of sympathy would be appreciated by making a donation to the Army Emergency Relief Fund in honor of Donald C. Cubbison III. Donations to AER are used to support Soldiers and their families. You may donate by mail or online:
Army Emergency Relief
200 Stovall Street, Room 5S33
Alexandria, VA 22332-0600