Brian Cushing grew up around veterans, World War II survivors

HOUSTON -- World history is in Brian Cushing's blood.

To trace the ancestry of the Houston Texans' outside linebacker is to take a tour through some of the world's most pivotal moments. Veterans Day has a special meaning for Cushing because of it. His great-great-uncle, Alonzo Cushing, received a posthumous Medal of Honor last year for being a Civil War hero. His father, Frank Cushing, was an intelligence officer during the Vietnam War. Afterward he was stationed in Germany, where Cushing's mother was born.

She was born Antoinette Lukaszewicz in 1944 in a Nazi war camp. Brian Cushing exists because she and her family survived.

"My grandfather never really learned English so anything I talked to him about (was) mainly through translations from my mom," Cushing said. "Definitely some interesting stories. He struggled with a lot of things. The war-torn country and being moved. A lot of his family was taken away from him. I know he never saw his mother again after they moved away from Poland. He never saw her again. Just a very mentally damaging time. ... Just definitely grateful for the sacrifices they made."

Beginning in 1939, the Nazis relocated hundreds of thousands of Polish people, many to slave labor camps, prisons and concentration camps, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. They were torn from their homes, sometimes with almost no notice.

The Lukaszewicz family was moved to a small village outside Cologne, Germany, where the Nazis had a forced labor camp. Cushing recalled his mother's stories of playing in the camp as a small child and photographs she still has.

"There were way more nationalities and races than just Jewish people in war camps," Cushing said. "They were Polish, but luckily they survived. She was born right before World War II ended. Quickly after that her father relocated them to the United States."

Not much remains from that time.

"They didn’t really bring anything with them," Cushing said of when the family emigrated to the United States in the early 1950s. "Just the clothes on their back and maybe a suitcase and some small belongings."

Antoinette spent the rest of her life in the United States. She speaks Polish, German, Russian and English with a New Jersey accent. She married Frank in 1968, and went with him to Germany when the military sent him there, but they never went to Poland. They raised their son Brian in New Jersey.

If Cushing wasn't a football player, he thinks he would have pursued a military career. He thinks he has the demeanor for it, similar to his father's.

"I always had an infatuation with the Air Force when I was growing up," he said. "The first school that recruited me was Navy, so I definitely thought that was a possibility. But as more time came on and bigger schools started recruiting me, my dad pushed me into that area. Wanted a different lifestyle for me."

Cushing played at USC and then was a first-round draft pick by the Texans in 2009.

He grew up around veterans, listening to stories of close calls when they could have lost their lives. He knows there's a lot he hasn't heard, too.

"Just incredible things about how they’re still here," Cushing said. "Mostly stories about survival. Making it through and just living and being who they are today and why they are who they are."

The military still means a lot to him. He recently launched his foundation, which helps support returning veterans and their families. Cushing is the Texans' nominee for the NFL's Salute to Service Award, given to the player who best honors and supports the military community.

Cushing is pondering a trip to Europe this summer, and while he's there, he thinks he'd like to see former Nazi camps. Many have been turned into memorials.

"I've talked to some people that liked (seeing the camps) and some people that didn't," Cushing said. "I think it affects everyone differently. It’s such a critical time in history that I’d definitely like to see at some point in my life."