Chuck Estano with representatives from the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire. From left to right: John Gordon, John Lobdell, Jeremy Sawyer, Estano, Paul Leary, and Grand Master Dave Collins. (Photo by Erin Plummer) (click for larger version)
July 29, 2021HOLDERNESS – A World War II veteran and 66-year Freemason from Moultonborough was presented with a high honor from the Grand Masonic Lodge of New Hampshire.
On Thursday representatives from the Grand Lodge presented the Maj. Gen. John Sullivan Award for Distinguished Service to Chuck Estano at Chocorua Lodge in Holderness in front of his lodge brothers and their family members.
Estano has been a Mason since 1955, he also served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
The award was a surprise and presented to him during a lodge meeting. Before the presentation he was asked to entertain guests. During the meeting David Collins, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire, presented him with the medal.
Masons in New Hampshire can get a silver medal for 10 years of membership and a gold for 20 years, though the Distinguished Servivce Award is one if the highest awards in the Grand Lodge.
"There's very few given, but they're given to brothers like Chuck right here," Collins said.
Collins and Estano's brother Masons recognized the many stories he is fond of telling from his life and Estano told several of them after the presentation.
Estano was born in South Boston to a family of 15 children, including eight other brothers and three sisters, or as he called them "three informers."
His grandmother came from Castlecomer, Ireland, where her family were driven from their land during the potato famine. She worked in the kitchen of a hospital in Salem, Mass., and lost an arm in a bread cutter six weeks after arriving. He said she wore a wooden prosthesis on a harness and "never complained."
Estano and his eight his brothers served during World War II and all of them came home safe. Estano himself flew a B-24 bomber in the South Pacific during the war.
He said his mother sent his oldest brother a $5 bill, he initialed and dated the bill and sent it along to the next oldest and the process continued. Estano got the bill, initialed and dated it, and carried it with him through the war.
"My mother passed away at 91 in Boston," Estano said. "Guess what she's holding in her hand? That same $5 bill."
His brother John served in the Navy and was aboard the USS Helena during the attack on Pearl Harbor and was on the ship when it was struck by Japanese torpedoes two years later. He was stationed in Alaska as a military photographer, where he photographed five ships coming towards Sitka with no flags or identification. The ships turned out to be Japanese ships engaging in that would be the invasion of Alaska, John's report brought out a massive military response to defend the islands. The response earned John a citation from Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt.
"John just passed away at the age of 101-years-old just last year and I'm so proud of him," Estano said.
Estano and his wife Gail have been married for 66 years and they have two children.
Estano would later go on to serve as Chief Investigator of the Office of the Attorney General in Massachusetts under Elliott Richardson.
"(I'm) a kid with a South Boston accent and a large family, no college that was for the rich kids because tuition was something like $2,700 a year," Estano said. "We did not have college and so I worked my way up through the ranks. I became and I couldn't still wonder if I believe it, I was retired chief investigator to the Department of the Attorney General."
Richardson was famous for quitting as US Attorney General under Pres. Richard Nixon after Nixon ordered him to fire investigator Archibald Cox.
He became a Freemason in 1955 after working as an occupational therapist at the Massachusetts state hospital and volunteering to help at the Masonic Home in Charlton, Mass., for seven years. He was so impressed with what he saw he joined the organization.
"I have always said I have known many Masons in 66 years and with only one exception in all those years that I wouldn't trust, I shook hands with many men knowing my word was bond and their word was bond too and so I'm grateful to be here thank you," Estano said.
Estano helped build the Chocorua Lodge. He has also served as Grand Historian for the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire.
"I remember being a young Mason coming to this lodge and I'm a history buff right, so I love hearing stories and what I love about you, Chuck, you have more stories," Collins said. "I haven't heard a lot of them, so I always get a new one from you."
Estano said the primary word that describes much of his life is "grateful."
"So I'm grateful," Estano said. "Grateful is the word I use to describe my life. I've had great and wild and great experiences."