In the old flickering black-and-white movie footage, actor James Cagney dances around on stage in an Uncle Sam outfit, tap dancing to a patriotic medley, namely the popular tune, “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
On Saturday, a real-life “Yankee Doodle Dandy” received a parade in his honor by friends and neighbors in Olive Branch on the occasion of his 99th birthday.
K.T. Robbins was born on the Fourth of July almost a century ago.
As he relaxes on his five-acre homestead, Robbins casts an eye back to a time and place when freedom and liberty were in real danger of being lost.
Robbins was part of the 95th Bakers Battalion, stationed in Briey, France during World War II. He literally helped to feed an army that was engaged in fighting one of the greatest foes to democracy in all of world history, the Nazi regime bent on no less than the destruction of the free world.
Robbins and his fellow members of the “Bakers Battalion” could bake as much as 3,000 loaves of bread a day.
It was during his time in Briey that Robbins would meet his first love, a beautiful young French girl named Jeannine Ganaye.
She had approached him about several large cans of lard placed next to a fence. Her hungry younger siblings were at her side.
She asked for the lard and the cans and sensing the pleading, hungry look in her eyes, Robbins obliged.
A courtship began.
Robbins was invited over to the young French girl’s home for dinner. The two struck up a deep friendship that Robbins later said had blossomed into love.
Robbins would later be transferred to another location in France and barely had time to bid his French love goodbye.
After the war, Robbins would return home and marry another, remaining happily married for nearly 70 years.
Then after 75 years, Robbins traveled to France to become reunited with Jeannine.
In a scene right out of the movie “Forever Young,” which starred Mel Gibson a couple years ago, Robbins would travel to France to see his beloved Jeannine after a separation of 75 years, which for many people, is an entire lifetime.
Robbins, then, became in essence a real “Time Traveler.”
This writer has had the pleasure of interviewing K.T. Robbins several times during the past decade.
I know him to be a devoted member of his church and his community. He would often dial me up personally checking on his newspaper subscription. K.T. likes to keep up with things. I surmise that’s how he has stayed so young.
I would see him again during recent Veterans Day parades in the DeSoto County seat of Hernando and across the county.
While K.T. never seemed to age, the world around him would continue to witness explosive change.
K.T. Robbins has witnessed two world wars, the bloody conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, Persian Gulf War, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, War on Terror and now a nation seemingly at war with itself.
Through it all, Robbins has kept smiling, tossing that carefree wave from a passing vehicle in a parade like a true professional. A patriot right out of central casting.
But K.T. Robbins is the real thing. We are losing veterans of his vintage by the thousands each day.
Each time a group of young people comes through the award-winning DeSoto County Museum, I pause to remind them that freedom and citizenship in the greatest country in the world isn’t free.
Someone paid for their liberty, often by shedding their own blood and by sacrificing their own life.
On display in the museum are the pictures and write-ups of Robbins and other brave men and women who went to war on our behalf. It is a debt that we owe.
We will continue to tell their stories. That’s the great thing about places like the DeSoto County Museum.
Old soldiers, even old bakers, might fade away but their stories will live on forever.