Norton looks back on her years of service
On one long command trip into the mountains, their group needed to find a place to stop for a restroom break. A nearby hotel seemed to be a likely spot. But she was told that the hotel was a place where atrocities had taken place – the killing of innocent Muslim men, women and children – and they would have to find another location.
Even in war, there are times that call for levity. On one such occasion, Norton’s unit was preparing for a visit by the Prince of Denmark. The Danish officers told her, “Do not hug our prince. You Americans hug too much.”
Charnette recalled the meeting: “The prince comes up and I started to salute him, and he gave me a big hug. The officers had set me up,” she offered with a laugh. “His officers... wanted to talk to me since I was a high ranking female officer - a Colonel.”
The Serbian president Slobodan Milošević was charged with war crimes in connection with the war in Bosnia, including grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, crimes against humanity and genocide, but died in 2006 before the trial could finish. It was reported he would round up the Muslims and then kill the men and women and throw the babies in the lake.
A more pleasant duty came about as a result of her position in the Society of Food Service Management on a business trip to England. In 1994, the 50th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion was to take place, and she was going to be a judge for the student competition. An earlier chance meeting with Sheila Thornburgh, who was a member of the House Of Lords in England, at a convention set in motion her attending the 1995 event in uniform.
“I met Shelia in Stockholm, Sweden, during one of our international meetings. Her mother had died during WWII as a result of the bombings,” Norton said. “She invited me to be her guest, and it had to be planned a year in advance. I told her I couldn’t just put on my uniform and go to the House of Lords. So, she wrote a letter to the Department of Army and followed it down through the chain of command, even to my unit.”
As a result, Norton sat at the head table at the House of Lords for the formal banquet held to honor the winners of the international student food service competition.
“All the Europeans are grateful for what the G.I.’s had done for them,” she said. “We were appreciated and they kept thanking me for what we had done. It was a special honor to be in uniform that night. I had two pieces of rank and unit insignia that I planned on giving each student, but that was not enough. Many in attendance wanted a piece of something from my uniform. As a result, I came home with nothing left on my uniform. All ribbons were gone as gifts to those in attendance.”
When she came home, she alerted the Army that she needed all her ribbons and honors to be replaced on her uniform.
“They asked why and I said because I left them all in Europe!” she explained.
As a result, it took a lot of work to replace her recognitions from throughout her U.S Army Reserve service, which began on August 25, 1981, and ended with her retirement on December 1, 2004: Appointments Captain, USAR, 1981; Major, 1983; Lt. Colonel, USAR, 1986; Colonel USAR, 1992.
She also earned the following US Decoration Badges: Legion of Merit, 2005; Order of Military Medical Merit, 2004; National Defense Service Medal, (2nd Award) 2003; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with “M” Device, 2003; NATO Medal, 2003; Meritorious Service Medal 2001; Army Commendation Medal, 1993; Army Achievement Medal, 1986; Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal (4 Oak Leaf Clusters) 1985, 1989, 1993, 1997; National Defense Service Medal, 1991, Army Service Ribbon, 1982; Army Reserve Components Overseas Training Ribbon, 1987; Rifle M16 Expert, 1984.
Ms. Norton often describes herself as a “farm girl from Plattsburg,” a self-effacing assessment that fails to do justice for such a remarkable, successful military career, and the service that Norton has performed for humanity.