― Tom Brokaw
NBC News Correspondent
(b. Feb. 6, 1940)
From, “The Greatest Generation”
America’s greatest generation has lost another unseen hero from its quiet ranks and lessening numbers.
He is Norris Robertson Sr., 93, a World War II veteran whose courage in a time of global fear and in an age of unconditional love for country helped to change the landscape of a world slowly bowing to overseas tyranny and mindless oppression in the late ‘30s and ‘40s.
But this uniformed American was far more than just a soldier.
He was a farmer who lived off the land.
He was a teacher who taught returning servicemen agricultural skills.
He was a longtime employee of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce who had a knack for education and a knowledge of life.
He was a devout Christian who taught an adult men’s Sunday School class for 50 years.
He was a long-wed husband who had lost his beloved Ruth years before.
He was a father of seven, a grandfather of 19, a great grandfather of 26, and a great great grandfather of one.
And, he was an uncle ... a great uncle.
He was my uncle. But it’s a loving title given by dozens of adoring nieces and nephews, and the descendants of nieces and nephews, in the life and times of the enormous Denson family whose seeds were planted in Starkville, Miss. and whose limbs eventually branched into tiny Booneville.
Now the family is spread far and wide, from Dothan, Ala. to Gaithersburg, Md., from Mideastern Texas to Southeast Tennessee and many points in between. The majority have remained scattered throughout the Magnolia State and are raising their own families as some of this grand old country’s salt-of-the-earth finest.
Reflecting on Uncle Norris is like stepping back into childhood. That’s how I best remember him. As youngsters, my siblings and I spent countless summer days and midwinter weekends visiting our Robertson cousins and helping on their farm.
For years they ran a dairy. It is where I learned to milk a cow. It is where I learned to dislike milking a cow.
For as long as I can remember, they were agrarians. Uncle Norris didn’t own a fancy tractor, not even an old and tired one that leaked oil and carved deep ruts into winding, dirt roads. He didn’t have the money. He broke the fields using old-school ways — horse, worn leather harness and heavy, rusting plows.
While visiting Uncle Norris and Aunt Ruth, and frolicking in the countryside with those seven Robertson cousins, it wasn’t always about play.
We worked. Everybody worked. Boys and girls. Young and old. Man and beast.
We planted seeds in Uncle Norris’ freshly furrowed rows, occasionally stepping over mounds of natural fertilizer left ahead by the strong horses of burden. Seems like I recall their names being Cindy and Beauty.
We filled buckets with freshly dug potatoes.
We hoed corn, beans, peas and the like.
We chopped cotton.
We picked cotton.
We mucked the stalls and cleaned the barn. We nailed old boards to its new wounds. We roofed with rusted tin. We hammered using bent nails.
We butchered beef for the cold winters. We slopped hogs in the mud. We fed the chickens. We fried a few while savoring the taste of a country mom’s cooking. We canned vegetables of all colors, of every size and in funny shapes. We laughed a lot, cried a little and wished for cooler summers and longer weekends.
Uncle Norris always blessed our food at the table, and with comforting arms draped across the narrow shoulders of hungry nephews, I can still hear his boisterous words, “Now boys, if it ain’t on the table, then jest call for it!”
Uncle Norris loved a strong cup of morning coffee drunk from a heavy, white mug dingy in the bottom from years of use, and he enjoyed a good chew. More times than not, he offered us boys a plug. For those who accepted, it was generally their last taken.
Uncle Norris drove an old and faded yellow, GMC pickup truck. It’s all I can remember him driving. Its cab sheltered a growing family in the rain, its bed hauled laughing kids in the shine.
Uncle Norris took us swimming in the old catfish pond and sometimes just watched from the grassy bank.
Uncle Norris once pulled me from waters much deeper than I was tall. Maybe just four or five years old, I had leaned too far from the edge, lost my balance and plunged into the muddy depths. I recall the sound of an echo, the sight of bubbles and the touch of a calloused hand wrapping around one arm. I remember sunlight, coughing and a woman’s voice in the distance shrieking, “Is he alright?”
Uncle Norris was a hero on this day, not just for one quick action but for a generation of life and love given to all whose path he crossed.
I will miss Uncle Norris.
He was a great man who gave a kind face and warm heart to The Greatest Generation.