"I had to be there because I was to perform. We have what they call the Fallen Comrade. ... It takes five men to put the rifle in the ground, then they put the helmet on the top, the flack jacket and boots on the bottom. Then my job is to hang the dog tags on the rifle in my wheelchair. You can't do it with a regular wheelchair. It takes mine to do it with the precision of making turns," said the former chief petty officer whose military service spanned from January 1954 to July 1968. "The people that lost fathers, husbands, brothers, they pass in front of us and drop a real rose in the boot. It's heartwarming."
Norton said he was born and raised in Anniston, where he joined the armed forces and would later serve during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He participated in Anniston's Memorial Day ceremony at Centennial Memorial Park, which includes a 36 foot-long Veterans Wall engraved with the names of 1,208 people from Alabama lost in Vietnam and two semi-circular walls engraved with the names of all Alabama veterans lost in war.
"It meant so much. We had about 300 to 400 people there in Anniston, and I've even had people call me and [say] what a great show the whole [event] was," Norton said, adding that several Georgians also attended the event. "It meant a lot to me. I've been doing it at that park since 1997 but this is the first time I had a chance to perform because in 2008 I had my legs amputated. Those guys at the fire department ... picked [the wheelchair] up and sit [it] in there like it didn't weigh anything."
For Cartersville Fire Department Chief Scott Carter, whose department assisted Norton prior to his departure and upon his return, Norton's situation exemplifies the fire department's service to the community.
"We say a lot of times the fire service is not just a job, being a firefighter, and being able to truly help citizens in need is what it's all about. It's not always about just fighting fires. It's about caring and showing compassion and just being able to be there. I think that's one of the biggest things we offer the community -- the fact that they know firefighters are there and they're willing to help. We are willing to help," Carter said. "There's an old saying that when people can't figure out what to do or how to handle the problem, call the fire department and that's so true because the firefighters in this community -- the men and women -- they are truly committed to helping to protecting and helping the citizens of Cartersville and it means something to them."