LOVELAND, Colo. (KDVR) — Hard to tell exactly how many medals George Norton has on his highly decorated veteran cap — and exactly which ones they are. That’s bound to happen when your service in the military spans the globe and spans decades.
“Thirty years and two weeks,” the Loveland 97-year-old told FOX31 about his length of service in the Navy. He was just 17 when he went off to fight in World War II.
“They give you a hammock and a bucket, and you needed them both. You needed that bucket because you was sick all the time,” Norton said, describing the topsy-turvy conditions aboard the SS Josiah Snelling, the merchant ship he sailed aboard while crossing the Pacific, en route to the Battle of Okinawa.
A kamikaze attack at the Battle of Okinawa
Docked in Guam in the spring of 1945, he started seeing boatloads of casualties arriving from the conflict, and he knew danger was coming his way.
“That gave me kind of a funny feeling knowing that’s where I’m going,” Norton said.
When it was his turn in the Battle of Okinawa, his ship crew shot down three enemy planes. But, as Norton puts it, his luck soon ran out.
“On the 28th of May, 1945, three merchant ships all got hit the same morning. And we were number three,” he said.
A Japanese kamikaze pilot flew his plane into the ship’s No. 1 hold that morning, sending flames as high as the masthead into the air.
“This kamikaze come in on the starboard side so close, I could see him,” Norton said.
He still has a picture of a piece of the plane that careened into his ship. A piece of shrapnel landed in his eye that day and landed him with a Purple Heart. But he didn’t get a trip home because of the injury.
“Hit me right in the cornea, the skin I guess. (The medic) put some salve on it, put a patch on my eye and said you know where your job is. Get on that gun. Go back to work,” Norton said.
After Okinawa, 3 more wars
Most people would’ve had enough after that kind of harrowing World War II experience. But George stayed in the Navy for 30 years and served during war after war.
“(I’m a) veteran of WWII, Korea and Vietnam, and I’m also a Cold War veteran,” he said.
It’s always the true heroes who rebuff that moniker, and Norton is no exception.
“I’m not a hero. I tell everyone that first thing. Because, hey, I was just doing my job,” Norton said.
Hero of the Month
But a FOX31 viewer disagrees. They nominated Norton as our FOX31 Serving Those Who Serve “Hero of the Month.” And it was our honor to present Norton with a plaque, courtesy of our sponsors at Ford, Plumbline Services and the Leo Hill Charitable Trust.
“Thank you so much. I appreciate it,” Norton said when handed the award.
“I loved the Navy. Still do,” he said.
To nominate a veteran, active duty service member, military family member or volunteer for our Hero of the Month honors, visit the Serving Those Who Serve nomination page.