Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The day that lives in infamy

For a change, this blog will take on a more serious tone. I had the privilege of knowing one of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation” personally. My father-in-law, Robin E Larson, was a true WWII hero, literally from the first day of the war. “Bob” was a young Ensign pilot assigned to a sea plane patrol squadron based on Ford Island, in the heart of Pearl Harbor.

On Dec 7th 1941 he, along with thousands of others, was fighting for his life. When the bombing started he was in his barracks at the opposite end of the island from his seaplane. Along with several other pilots he jumped on a 2 ½ ton flatbed truck and headed for the planes. They had to stop a few times to jump off and duck under the truck during Japanese strafing runs. At one point he was standing a couple hundred yards from the USS Arizona when it blew up and broke apart. The blast knocked them all to the ground.

After finally surviving the harrowing trip across the island he and a copilot and some seaman pushed bombs into the plane’s bay door. They were going to push them out when they were over the enemy ships. The plane was never designed to be used like this but in the heat of that moment; there was payback to be had. He then gave his wallet to one of the seaman. He wanted there to be something to send back to his family, just in case. They miraculously got up in the air and headed  due west to “sink the Jap fleet”. Unbeknown to them and quite fortunately as it turned out, the Japanese had come from the north so they never found them. As he related it, the return to Pearl Harbor was far more hazardous. There was confusion with identity codes and American fliers had been shot down by mistake.

Next up was Midway. While not a direct participant in the battle itself. Bob played an integral role. Flying one of the scout patrols looking for the Japanese fleet he received and relayed the message and positions from the plane that discovered it.

Throughout the Pacific war, Bob and his crew flew numerous rescue missions to retrieve downed pilots or survivors from ships that had been sunk. He recounted one such episode during which he, his crew, and survivors had to stay on the ocean surface overnight. During the rescue the swells had grown too big to risk a takeoff. They spent the night bailing a small leak until they could get airborne the next morning. However, there was one he didn't talk about much. It was a failed rescue mission that is summarized on the following website http://www.vpnavy.com/vp23_mishap.html  Look for the article of 30 Oct 1944. From personal knowledge I know that, as commander of the aircraft, Bob did not let any of his crew get into the life rafts until the wounded man was safely secured in one.

He also had the task of transporting many high ranking Navy, Marine and Army officers to and from battle areas. Many of the names you would recognize if you follow WWII history at all.

He was not to go through the war without a fair taste of ground warfare. His air group was assigned to ferry supplies and remove wounded from Iwo Jima. At one point, while waiting to be reloaded during the night, they were attacked and had to take cover in a foxhole. The next morning it was discovered that the men in the neighboring foxhole were dead. That night some Japanese had sneaked in and slit their throats.

Captain Larson went on to have a stellar career in the Navy, retiring with many commendations after 32 years. Before he died and after much nagging by yours truly and others, he finally wrote memoirs. They are a fascinating read.  In 1991, my wife and I had the honor of traveling with Bob and her mother to Pearl Harbor for the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor survivors. Another war hero, President George H. W. Bush, spoke at the ceremony. It was one of the highlights of my life.

 Remember them all on Pearl Harbor Day.


Bernice said...

Thank you for sharing, Big Al. You have a big heart - and a gift for writing. God bless your father-in-law and all the other soldiers, sailors and marines who fought and fight for our country. It's imperative to hear and learn of these personal historical recollections from those who were there.

Big Al said...

Thanks Bernice. Those men never gave it a second thought. They just did what they had to.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful blog and picture and story. I'm glad your father in law told you what he did so you could pass it on. I knew an Iwo Jima survivor..named Floyd Atchley..loved this man, a true patriot and gentleman above all. He's gone now too..thanks for your blog..well,all of them!

Anonymous said...

I'm having a problem. I was anonymous because the other way was giving me fits. Cindy

Anonymous said...

I really love that you wrote this. Thank you,

Jeri Moore said...

Wonderful tribute Al. How very proud Patty must be of her Dad!