Borough residents attend NYSE bell ringing

June 20, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - James B. Oerding almost got his 15 seconds of fame.

His dream for a year was to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange that starts the day's trading at 9:30 a.m. sharp.

He had watched on television as famous and not-so-famous people got their shot and he wanted his chance, too. Some days no one is lined up to ring the bell so the chairman of the stock exchange does it, Oerding said.

Oerding, 67, and his wife, Sandra Pelletier, 62, have lived at 138 N. Carlisle St., since 1991. A retired U.S. Army major who enlisted at age 17, he ended up graduating from West Point.


Oerding received a Silver Star in a ceremony in his back yard last year, 34 years after earning it in an action during the Tet Offensive in 1968 in Vietnam. He served three tours during the fighting there in 1965-'66, 1967-'68 and again in 1972-'73 in the Green Berets, Special Forces and an airborne unit.

He retired in 1974, then worked as a civilian for the Army, including duty in the Pentagon, Hawaii and finally Fort Ritchie in Cascade until he retired again in 1994.

It was the Fort Ritchie connection that led the couple to buy a 19th century brick home in Greencastle.

A year ago, Oerding wrote a letter to the chairman of the NYSE asking if he could ring the opening bell. "I told him I was an old warrior who had just received a Silver Star 34 years late and that I was wondering if he'd let me ring the bell on a day when there's no one there," Oerding said.

An Army liaison officer at the stock exchange called and told him he could ring it on Nov. 22 if his story checked out. Oerding was all set to go when the officer called and said the day had been rescheduled for a more important person.

Two months ago he was again contacted by stock exchange officials and told he was rescheduled for June 13.

Once again he was upstaged, this time by the commanding general of the Army's Tenth Mountain Division which was just returning from duty in Afghanistan. The next day, June 14, in addition to Flag Day, was the Army's 228th anniversary.

He and Sandra were invited to go anyway.

From the couple's description, being invited to ring the opening bell, and even the 4 p.m. closing bell, is considered a serious event by the stock exchange.

They were given a red-carpet treatment from the time of their arrival at the exchange Friday morning until they left.

All of their party, including the general and his entourage, were given a fancy breakfast and got to shake hands with the chairman of the stock exchange, he said. They were escorted to the platform above the trading floor where the button that rings the bell is located. On the way to the platform they were greeted with applause from the traders below.

Sandra, in a letter to family and friends about their experience, wrote, "Upon entering the floor of the exchange all activity stopped and everyone began to clap in unison as our procession moved through the room. Some came over and shook the hands of various soldiers ... many said thank you and patted the soldiers on the back as we passed."

Oerding got to stand about 3 feet away from the general as he pushed the button. "I could have reached over and touched it," he said.

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