Joshua Culbreath - Marine Vet and Olympic Hero
by U.S. Marine Corps Ashley Boster
July 28, 2021
Joshua Culbreath, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Olympic hero, passed away on July 1, 2021. Culbreath was 88 years old.
Top Left - U.S. Marine Corps Pvt. Joshua Culbreath earns the Bronze Medal for third place third place in the 400 meter hurdles during the1956 Olympic Games" in Melbourne, Australia ... Right - Pvt. Joshua Culbreath, "Quantico’s gift to the 1956 Olympic Games" in Melbourne, Australia, with some of the presents he brought home. In his hand is his Bronze Medal for third place in the 400 meter hurdles ... Bottom Left - Joshua Culbreath (center) with Gen. James T. Conway (left) and Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent (right) accepts his induction into the U.S. Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame on an undiscloed date.. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from photos courtesy of Joshua Culbreath's family.)
Born September 14,1932, to Jesse and Anna B. Culbreath, and raised in the tiny coal town of Norristown, Pennsylvania, Joshua Culbreath conveyed a lifelong history of athletic excellence.
“He was an amazing man, loved to talk, and always had a story to tell. He loved to talk about his memorable high school and college days, his childhood years, being a Quantico Marine, and, of course, his Olympian days,” said Cynthia Culbreath, cousin of Joshua Culbreath.
He was a young track star through his school aged years and in 1948, found himself best qualified as a hurdler during his junior year at Norristown High School.
Continuing to Morgan State College, Culbreath worked closely with Edward P. Hurt, known to be one of the world’s greatest track coaches, where he started to gain recognition.
Culbreath, a trailblazer of his time, began to travel abroad for competitions to other countries like Italy, Ireland, and Scotland. There he competed in the 400m hurdles; continuing to set new records along the way.
His athletic successes continued as he competed and won gold medals in the 1955 and 1959 Pan American Games.
In 1956, he enlisted into the United States Marine Corps where he served on active duty at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia for three years.
“Josh was a die-hard Semper Fi Marine man!” said Cynthia. “That's all he talked about in his life, telling stories of Marine life.”
As a young Marine, Culbreath continued competing in the All-Marine Track and Field Championships, setting new Marine Corps and Inter-Service records. He traveled overseas to Berlin with the Armed Forces team to compete, and there, won several military and NATO track and field medals.
Culbreath was considered “Quantico’s gift to the 1956 Olympic Games” and rightfully so, landing him the bronze medal in the 400m hurdles in the 1956 Melbourne, Australia Olympic Games.
Following the 1956 Olympic Games, Joshua Culbreath said, "As I stood there on the victory stand with Glenn Davis and Eddie Southern, I had a proud feeling run through me which I’d never felt before. As we stood there, they raised the American flags (ones for each of us), then played the Star-Spangled Banner, nothing I believe, can ever replace our National Anthem to make one proud he’s an American. Every one of our American athletes who took that victory stand will bear me out on that.”
In an article written by Staff Sgt. John Mahoney, in October of 1956, Mahoney emphasized that Culbreath feels that sports, and for him track, has had a bearing on making him a better Marine.
“The highly competitive spirit which helps a man both in the world of running and combat needs a mentally and physically conditioned man. Through his Marine training and track training, he feels he can qualify better as a defender of his country,” said Mahoney.
Culbreath received his Master of Arts degree in education from Temple University. In 1988, he went on to coach track and field at Ohio’s Central State University. It was during this time that he coached his team to 10 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) championships.
Four of his athletes competed in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia; to include the 400m hurdles gold medalist, Deon Hemmings. Culbreath, and his track team, were invited to the White House Rose Garden and honored by President Bill Clinton in June 1993.
After his coaching career, Culbreath later became the athletic director at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Culbreath made guest appearances on “The Cosby Show”, playing the character of Col. Sanford B. “Tailwind” Turner, Cliff Huxtable’s college track rival.
In 1994, he was inducted into the Penn Relays Track and Field Wall of Fame. He was also inducted into multiple other Halls of Fame and won countless awards and accolades, during his career.
Culbreath was an inspiration to many; he was a Marine, Olympian, teacher, and coach.
In the words of Staff Sgt. John Mahoney, “Champions, like fighting men are made not born. It's a man's will to be the greatest…hard training, and few breaks.”
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