Local WWII hero passes at age of 95: A legacy of courage, honor, and love


staff writer

HONORED AIRMAN — A World War II U.S. Air Force veteran, Buster Norden was one of the guests of honor during an air show in Camden in April of 2013.

The skies were threatening stormy weather Thursday afternoon as family and friends gathered at the burial site of Buster B. Norden at Carroll Memorial Gardens in McKenzie.

Norden, a lifelong Carroll County resident, died that previous Sunday (March 26) at the age of 95 at McKenzie Healthcare.

But while the storms held off until after the ceremonies, threatening skies were a fitting token for the beloved U.S. Air Force veteran, who was credited with 36 combat missions during his wartime service in the European Theater of World War II.

Born March 4, 1922 as the son of the late Alonzo and Vonnie (Hargrove) Norden of Buena Vista, Buster Norden enlisted in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1942 after graduating from Hollow Rock High School.

He later transferred to the Air Force and was sent for training as a gunner and assistant radio operator at Fort Collins in Colorado.

Norden proposed to his future wife, Dessie Louise Powell, before boarding a ship for Naples Italy. The two married when he returned to Tennessee in May of 1945 and remained husband and wife until her death in 2008.

SERVICE ON DISPLAY — This collection of photos from Buster Norden’s wartime service in the U.S. Air Force during World War II is on display at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation in Sevierville.

During his service in the European Theater, Norden manned a .50-caliber machine gun in the nose turret of a B-24 bomber.

He and his fellow crewmen took part in the low-level bombings of the Ploesti Oil Fields in Nazi-occupied Romania — raids that played a significant role in cutting the fuel supply to the German war machine and bringing about the ultimate downfall of the Hitler’s Third Reich.

With the war in Europe all but over, Norden found himself 14 missions short of the standard 50 combat missions required to earn honorable discharge papers, and it was looking like he would have to finish the tally fighting the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.

After returning on leave to Tennessee and getting married, Norden was sent to Santa Anna, California for additional training. He was preparing for another trip overseas when Japan surrendered to the Allied forces.

The recipient of numerous honors and medals, Norden was honorably discharged from the military in September of 1945. He received seven Battle Participation Awards for his part in the Naple-Fogia Campaign, the Rome-Arno Campaign, the Air Offensive, European Campaign, the Air Combat Balkans Campaign, the Germany Campaign, the North Apennines Campaign, and the Po Valley Campaign.

When he got back to Carroll County, Norden took a job at the Carroll County Electric Department and was also enrolled briefly at the Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville.

He dropped out of TTU when his boss at the CCED convinced him that on-the- job training would be the better way to go. That ultimately turned into a 41-year career as an engineer with the CCED until his retirement in 1986.

FLAG PRESENTATION — Specialist John Hunter with the Tennessee National Guard Honor Guard of Jackson presents a folded American flag to surviving family members at the gravesite.

A collection of photographs and other memorabilia from Norden’s war-time service was accepted by the Tennessee Museum of Aviation in Sevierville in September of 2007, and these items can still be found on display there.

“He was one of those men who was easy to love because he loved so deeply,” said Bro. Dan Winkler during Norden’s funeral services at Chase Funeral Home in Huntingdon.

Winkler described Norden as courageous, committed, and convicted in all aspects of his life.

Norden, who served for many years as a member and an elder at Huntingdon Church of Christ, was praised for his faith and his willingness to share that faith with others.

“Buster was a tremendous personal evangelist,” said Winkler.

Winkler also spoke of Norden’s love for classic convertibles, fishing, and dressing up nice.

“Buster was a classy kind of guy,” said Winkler.

TAPS — Specialist Caleb Patterson with the Tennessee National Guard Honor Guard of Jackson plays “Taps” at the gravesite of Buster Norden at Carroll Memorial Gardens.

Members of the West Tennessee Honor Guard of Jackson were present at the gravesite, honoring Norden’s military service by playing “Taps” and presenting surviving family members with a folded American flag.

Buster Norden is survived by two sons, Nelson Norden (wife Marilyn) of Holly Springs, North Carolina and Randall Norden (wife Sylvia) of Springville; and one sister, Lonnelle McMillin of Huntingdon.

He also leaves behind six grandchildren and one great-great grandson.

Along with his wife, he was preceded in death by his sister, Claudine Jordan, and brother, Weldon Norden.

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MEDALS AND HONORS — These medals and honors, all earned by Buster Norden during his service in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, can be seen on display at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation in Sevierville.

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