Emotional night at Chase-Rescorla fundraiser
By Michael Isam
The space time continuum is alive, well, and functioning at its peak — there was not a dry eye in the house at the end of the 7th Annual Chase-Rescorla Scholarship Fundraiser Dinner.
Local students were awarded scholarships as part of the ongoing scholarship fund of the Chase-Rescorla Foundation “Heroes Building Heroes through Education” campaign.
Lavonshia Evans, a 2012 Chase-Rescorla Scholarship recipient. Evans is currently enrolled at the University of North Florida with a focus on business as her major.
Jayde Robinson, a 2012 Chase-Rescorla Scholarship recipient. Robinson is currently enrolled at the University of West Florida majoring in International Studies with a 2nd Major in Spanish.
Mya Garden, a senior at St. Augustine High School is in pursuit of a career in Psychology and plans to attend St. Johns River State College after graduation.
William Kight, a senior at St. Joseph Academy, intends to seek a degree in Criminal Justice at Pace University. Kight plans to follow in the footsteps of his father, and join the Air Force after college to become a member of the Security Force Team.
The evening was not just about the scholarships. Everyone in the room received sage advice to be passed from generation to generation — a quote from a Marine about to land in the assault on Iwo Jima.
“It is not about what we have done — it is about what we will do”.
Keynote speaker of the event Giles Norrington’s delivered that sage advice to all present. He went on to talk about not only his experiences as a former POW who spent most of his 1775 days in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” but acknowledged this year’s recipients, “They received these scholarships not for what they have done, but more importantly for what they will do.”
There is a certain look about Norrington. It is not the sorrow or the remorse of his ordeal, but his understanding of what it means to be alive. “During my incarceration, I dreamed of looking at a horizon. I prayed for the day when we all would feel a fresh wind on our faces and feel the indescribable sensation of freedom.”
Yes, that’s the look, that look of seeing the horizon held in the mind’s eye. That look of experiencing fresh wind on the face. That look which says to those who can see “this soul understands the true meaning of freedom.” The adjective has yet to be conceived to capture that. It has to be felt in the depths of the soul.
“I have had the honor of serving under difficult circumstances,” Norrington said as he spoke of his ordeal. “And, if I survived, and if I thrived, it was not because of anything I did.”
Norrington credits his survival on four things.
“I never lost faith in God, as I understood God; I never lost faith in our nation and its’ constitutional underpinnings; I never lost faith in my fellow POW’s, and I never lost faith in Dick Stratton,” Norrington said. “The WWII Marine remains my personal hero — he was a prisoner along with me and he lives not more than 30 miles or so from here.”
Norrington recalled one occasion when, after days upon days of torture, Stratton finally agreed to be photographed — but would not speak. Stratton began by bowing to the photographers, bowing to the left and right, and in a moment of inspiration, he turned his back to all and bowed again.
“I’m fairly sure it was the first time they had ever been mooned,” Norrington joked. “The enemy was not sure exactly what had happened, but they knew something had happened; Stratton was punished with more and longer sessions of torture — the enemy had no sense of humor.”
Every time Norrington sees Stratton, he said that he tells him thank you for helping to keep them alive.
Two days after the 40th anniversary of his release on March 14, 1973, Norrington was presented with a celebratory cake.
“This is my cake,” he joked as he and his bride, Eileen, performed the ceremonial cut. “And, because it is MY cake, I’m claiming the corner cut which has a lot of frosting.”
Shortly after the cake cutting, magic arrived and infused the room with wonderment.
Chase-Rescorla Foundation Chairman William Jefferson presented Norrington with a plaque containing a letter from Janet Bruno of Spokane, WA telling him of the POW/MIA bracelet she purchased in 1971 that was inscribed with Norrington’s name.
“We aren’t done yet, so don’t pack up,” announced Jefferson. “We have in our audience a lady who flew here from Salem, Massachusetts to be here tonight.”
Jefferson introduced Peggy Cornacchio who found Norrington by searching the Internet.
She found a POW/MIA bracelet with Norrington’s name on it while cleaning and knew she had to see if he was still alive.
“If he is still alive, I told myself, I have to give it to him,” said Cornacchio.
During the years of wear and moving, the bracelet broke. When she took to a jewelry store to have it cleaned and repaired, the jeweler refused payment.
Cornacchio’s parents purchased the bracelet for their daughter in 1971.
“When I saw he was to be the keynote speaker tonight, I knew I had to be here to give it to him.”
A lady at my table had dark tracks running down her cheeks. She leaned over to me and said “It is very difficult to applaud and to wipe the tears from your eyes.” She just let the make-up run.