Jan. 3, 2013
By John Hirn
Colorado State University has had many war heroes and many great athletic heroes, but there has never been anyone like Chester Cruikshank. (Crook-shank)
In football, Cruikshank was an outstanding guard and end for Harry Hughes' 1933 and 1934 conference champion teams, but it was on Hughes' track team where "Chet" excelled both locally and nationally. Cruikshank competed in the hammer and the discus. He is a five-time All-American in CSU track, winning the hammer in 1933, '34 and '35 along with discus in 1934 and 1935.
After his collegiate career was over, Cruikshank won the 1935 Junior AAU National Championships in the hammer. Despite not making the 1936 Olympic team, Cruikshank continued to compete in amateur track events and won the AAU National Championship for the hammer in 1939.
As WWII heated up Major Cruikshank, who joined the Army in 1940, was serving with the 45th Infantry Division, 157th Infantry. The Army allowed him to compete in the 1942 AAU National Championships and he won his second national title in the hammer. By the spring of 1943, however, Major Cruikshank had moved on to the 180th Infantry as the Army continued to allow him to compete, winning the hammer at the Penn Relays.
On June 8, 1943, the 45th Infantry Division and Major Cruikshank left for Italy. On July 10th, the 180th Infantry landed at Sicily and in heavy fighting Cruikshank had to dodge German machine gun fire and jumped into a 50-foot ravine, breaking his ankle.
He returned to duty in September of 1943 to fight at Salerno where he earned the first of his Silver Star Awards. After intense fighting through Christmas of 1943 and very little relief, Cruikshank and his men had 10 days of rest before moving on to fight at Anzio in January of 1944. Now promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Cruikshank took command of the 2nd Battalion of the 180th Infantry and engaged in intense fighting while at Anzio.
Lt. Col. Cruikshank earned the Bronze Star and Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, while fighting between May 23 and June 3, 1944. Cruikshank not only led his battalion in the fighting of a difficult battle, he also administered first aid to seven of his wounded men while continuing to direct the troops under intense enemy fire.
He and his men then had little time to rest before landing in Southern France in September of 1944, where he earned his second Silver Star Award. The 180th Infantry then liberated Nuremburg in 1945 and moved south to liberate the concentration camp of Dachau.
Immediately after the war, Lt. Col. Cruikshank came home to compete in the 1945 AAU National Championships. With little or no practice, a Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Cluster and two years at the front, Cruikshank finished fourth in the finals.