Monday, April 14, 2014

Jerry Norton's Funeral at Arlington National Cemetary, April 11, 2014

From The Barron:

On a clear, cool and bright spring morning, when Washington’s cherry blossoms were at their peak, dozens of family and friends gathered to memorialise former Reuters colleague Jerry Norton on Friday at Arlington National Cemetery, one of America’s most revered places, writes Greg McCune.
The 30-minute ceremony in Section 60 of the famous cemetery, which is located on what was once the estate of Civil War Confederate General Robert E. Lee, was led by a military chaplain who spoke of Norton’s valour in serving his country, and read scripture passages.

“You cannot buy your way into this hallowed ground,” he said to the mourners, led by Norton’s wife Kim and son Michael. “You have to earn it.”

Surrounded by a sea of white tombstones, a seven-member rifle squad fired the traditional 21-gun salute, and a lone bugler intoned “Taps”. Then a Marine honour guard holding an American flag carefully folded it into a triangle and presented it to Kim.

Army Specialist Norton earned the right to be interred at Arlington because of his service in the Vietnam War, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded during a mortar attack at Song Be. Kim said he dived out of a window during the rocket attack to save his life. He was hit with shrapnel in his shoulder, wrist and back, and a piece was lodged in his arm for the rest of his life.

Typical of self-effacing Norton, he never mentioned to some of his friends that he had been wounded in battle and won the Purple Heart, as well as other commendations. Kim said he kept the medals in a drawer and when she asked about them, he mumbled something and put them away.

Several family and friends remarked about this humility and reticence during a reception at the National Press Club that followed the solemn graveside ceremony. Friends and family remembered Norton as a father, brother, uncle, friend and journalist – including comments from former Reuters colleagues
Peter Bohan, Greg McCune and Brian Bain.

Norton died at age 67 in December after an inoperable brain tumour was discovered within months of his retirement from Reuters in 2011. Several people who spoke at the reception remarked how he had been taken from them too soon.

He served in the US Army from 1968 to 1970 including a one year tour in Vietnam and was first assigned to an artillery unit, where he sustained the injuries. His great Army friend Terry Turner was not able to be at the memorial, but wrote that he believed both their lives were saved because they could type, which qualified them to be assigned to public information units. Norton became editor of the division magazine, a coveted post because it involved a 30-day trip to Tokyo to assemble and print the magazine.

Such was Norton’s devotion to fairness and balance in journalism that many of his colleagues at Reuters never knew of his avowedly libertarian political views, or that he had once run for the Virginia legislature as a Republican. He won the primary but lost the general election in a heavily Democratic district. He also worked for the conservative group Young Americans for Freedom both after leaving the Army and again after he retired from Reuters.

Journalism took him back to Asia where he would work for Unicom, the
South China Morning Post and then Reuters. In Asia, he also met and married Kim, who was born and raised in Vietnam.

He joined Reuters in 1986 as a filing editor at then regional headquarters in Hong Kong, and over a 25 year career was news editor in Japan, bureau chief in Singapore and Indonesia, deputy desk editor and deputy political and general news editor for Asia. He returned to Washington in 2010, where he worked for the startup Reuters America service aiming to compete with AP. He retired at the end of 2011.

Peter Bohan, the Singapore bureau chief before Norton, and his last supervisor before Norton retired, spoke of the important part he played in launching a new service in the United States in 2010 and how he quietly mentored journalists and stringers.

Brian Bain noted how Norton distinguished himself covering and directing the coverage of some of the biggest stories in Asia over the last 20 years including the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Bali bombing.

Bain read out comments from colleagues who had worked with Norton in Asia including
Kim Coghill, Tony Winning, Rodney Pinder and Eric Hall.

“The frequent and controlled, curved smile could have meant a few things, but the crow’s feet at the corner of the glistening eyes always told you that Jerry Norton was on your side, if you wanted him to be,” Bain read from a note written by Hall, a longtime colleague of Norton. “Perhaps Jerry would not mind if we said he was a great American, with all the values and disciplines that phrase imparts in the best sense,” Hall wrote.