Village veteran John Cornelius reached his goal of $100,000 raised for veterans at the Prescott VA hospital by the time raffle winners were drawn on Dec. 7 at Weber’s Market. A decorated World War II veteran, Cornelius has raised the money over the last six years, since visiting with wounded vets from the Gulf wars.
|One of John Cornelius’ loyal helpers in his fundraising is Tom Lockhart, a World War II veteran who taught President George H. W. Bush how to fly.|
CAMP VERDE - The term “band of brothers” has become synonymous with the camaraderie of soldiers in battle.
But what about solders after combat? Does the same spirit of solidarity live on?
If John Cornelius were to answer that question he’d say, unequivocally, yes.
Cornelius is a veteran of World War II. From 1943 to 1945, he led a rifle company of the 88th Infantry Division through North Africa and Italy.
He has witnessed all the fear and sorrow war has to offer, along with the sense of brotherhood that only battle can impart and even death cannot destroy.
Six years ago, on a trip to the VA hospital in Prescott, he found a whole new generation of young men, much like the ones he had led in battle, dealing with the same nightmares he had witnessed nearly 60 years earlier.
The visit rekindled his spirit of brotherhood and sent him of on a new mission -- this one of kindness and compassion.
On Dec. 7, Cornelius and a group of dedicated volunteers will drew raffle tickets in front of Weber’s Market in the Village of Oak Creek, just like they have done for the last five years.
This year the winners took home free dinners, rounds of golf and a slew of items and services donated by merchants from throughout the valley. A handful will took home prizes like a seven-day cruise to the Caribbean, airfare included, and rounds of golf and lodging at Pebble Beach or Spy Glass.
They were all prizes Cornelius has hustled over the last year from willing contributors, including the man who employed him for 38 years, George Hearst, chairman of the Hearst Corporation and several professional golfers.
Helping him with the final fund-raiser and drawing were other veterans like Tom Lockhart, who had the distinction of teaching a young pilot named George Herbert Walker Bush to fly.
Other vets like Ed Lajala, Bob Boblewski and Bob Woodward, Cornelius’ bothers Bob and Paul, former FBI agent Dave Johnson, and some of Cornelius’s friends like Diane Janusch and Marie Tillotson, were there selling last minute tickets and helping draw the winners.
But the real winners on that day were the veterans who spend their days at the VA Hospital in Prescott, wishing they were someplace else.
The first year Cornelius held the raffle he raised $7,600. He raised a bit more the next year and even more the next. Last year he brought in $23,000.
This year he sold $30,005, bringing his total for he last six years to $102,037.88.
Cornelius won’t take credit for what’s been done. He places it, instead, squarely on his loyal volunteers, the generosity of the Verde Valley community as a whole and the contributions he has received from people he has never met, from across the nation.
“Every penny we raise goes to the veterans. There is no one between us and them,” he says, “The money is used to buy them things the government doesn’t provide.
“They get calling cards, magazines, newspapers, Christmas parties and gifts. We even try to provide them flowers for their rooms. They are the little things that go a long way toward brightening up their lives.”
John Cornelius is 94. He says he plans to be raising money again when his birthday rolls around next April.George H. W. Bush how to fly.