Col. Dale Norman, United States Air Force (Ret.), died on New Years Day. He was a brave and honorable man who did much to help our country defeat the totalitarian scourge of communism, he was the loyal kid brother of our beloved pop, who has also done much for the world, and among many other accomplishments he was our good old Uncle Dale.
A stubbornly independent streak that is a family trait limited our time with Col. Norman, who spent much of his life in exotic locations far flung from our humble prairie home, but he loomed large in our lives nonetheless. Our father would often boast of his kid brother’s athletic accomplishments at Moore, Okla., High School, where Uncle Dale was the star quarterback and point guard while pop was apparently relegated to the status of the small town’s foremost egghead, and even in late into his life Uncle Dale always cut the appropriately dashing figure. We will always remember him emerging from the cockpit of his super-sonic jet after landing at our hometown’s McConnell Air Force Base, looking very much like something out of an improbable movie as he swaggered across the runway in a form-fitting flight suit that seemed to exemplify military machismo.
Uncle Dale had already completed his tours of duty in Vietnam by that point, and although we wound up losing that skirmish his continued service gave us confidence that the good guys would ultimately prevail in the Cold War. He went on to command an American base in Turkey, where he kept a careful eye on the neighboring commies, and when the Soviet Union eventually called it quits we knew he had done his part. The complex weapons systems that our egghead father helped developed at Boeing after his early departure from the Air Force also played an important role, as Uncle Dale always knew, but the willingness of all the men and women in uniform to take that know-how to the very borders of the conflict was what ultimately freed millions from tyranny.
Freedom’s victory in the Cold War was won in the playing fields of the Oklahoma oil patch, as it turns out. The Norman boys grew up in the Oklahoma dust bowl in the dark days of the Depression and World War II, expertly raised by a canny old autodidactic roughneck who somehow knew how to solve the problems that arise on an oil rig and in life, and it was the men and women just like them who applied those primal lessons to the challenges of their time who made it possible for good to triumph. They were never cocky about it, and instead insisted an aw’ shucks humility about their lives, but we hope they know and knew how much they were appreciated.
The funeral for Col. Norman led us on a grueling all-night drive deep into to the heart of Texas, where he spent the last bittersweet years of his life on a picturesque lake, and where the formerly cocksure fighter jock found old age and infirmity not at all to his liking, but the difficulty of the journey proved comforting. Our father spoke eloquently of his kid brother, recalling the savvy old roughneck who had molded such great men, and our cousin Michelle gave an apt tribute to the wonderful father Uncle Dale had been. We confess to a dire worry that by comparison to our ancestors our own lives exemplify the decline of America, yet the oddly joyful celebration of Col. Norman’s life gave us a sort of confidence. The trip afforded a chance to get to know two of Uncle Dale’s grandchildren, a pair of polite and delightfully well-bred Texas boys exhibiting the best of the family’s traits, and we returned with a hopeful feeling. We now feel nothing but gratitude for Uncle Dale’s life, and wish that America will feel the same.
We were pleased to see Col. Norman’s casket draped with the flag of the United States of America, and are gratified to know that the honor was well-earned.
– Bud Norman