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PoW Christmas

Former PoW Col. Gordon Swede Larson, USA Today Hotsite




Gordon Albert Larson

I have been thinking of writing this for a long time but have been procrastinating ever since I returned from Vietnam. If I am ever to do it, the time is now (1996). I’m writing this so that my grandchildren, and their children, might have a small piece of their heritage.


I was born in Winona, Minnesota on 15 November 1927 to Albert and Hazel (Campbell) Larson.

My father was born on the family farm in Homer, Minnesota to Arne and Mary Larson. They were both born in Norway. He was the youngest of three children by his mother and father. He had a sister, Nettie Larson Hasse, and a brother, Emil Larson (no children). He also had two brothers and two sisters by his mother's previous marriage to a man named Olson. His sisters were Emma Olson Thompson, Jo Olson Maronni, and brothers Orrie Olson and Ed Olson, both of whom were bachelors. My mother was the daughter of Joseph and Jane Campbell of Homer, Minnesota. They were both born in Scotland. I had a younger brother, Robert A. Larson, who drowned in Lake Winona, in 1937, when I was ten years old. My immediate family is buried in the family plot in Woodlawn Cemetery in Winona, Minnesota while my father’s family is buried in the Cedar Valley Cemetery, Cedar Valley, Minnesota.


My father was a mechanic by trade and my mother was a housewife with two children to raise until the "Great Depression" came along and turned this country upside down. My father, along with most every other working man, lost his job and could not find work. Times became very tough in those days and it was very difficult to feed and provide for a family. My father cut down trees on his father's farm, sawed them up by hand, and split them for firewood. He would load up his Model-T truck with wood, haul it to town during the cold freezing days of a typical Minnesota winter to a central point where many others had similar loads, where they tried to sell the load for $3.00. The townspeople soon got wise and waited until close-to-dark before trying to buy wood when they could get it for $2.00 because the men were so cold from standing around all day, they only wanted to go home to get warm.


My mother would get up at 4:30 every morning to bake bread to sell to the neighbors. She did so well at it, that they found another old wood stove and put it in the basement so that she could double her output. As my dad could not find work, he helped her with the bread making. I used to deliver much of the bread in our neighborhood with my wagon. One lady bought bread twice a week, paying 10 cents a loaf, which was several cents more than the price in the store. She used to give me a penny tip each time and I started taking my little brother along in hopes of him getting one also. Our pennies went into the family fund as a penny bought a lot in those days (a new car was about $500, but no one could afford them).


I remember little of those years but several things still stand out in my memory. People couldn't afford to go to the hospital unless it was a dire emergency, and the doctors would come to your house whenever required (can you imagine that happening today?). My brother had a bad ear infection and I remember the doctor coming to our house and my mother putting a bed sheet on the dining room table where the doctor lanced his ear. I can still see the blood on that sheet!


I remember that everyone’s milk and ice were delivered to your door by horse drawn wagons. All of the kids would run out in the street to get a chip of ice off the wagon when the iceman arrived. People put a sign in the window denoting the size of ice they wanted and the iceman would bring the ice into the house and put it in your icebox whether you were home or not. People never locked their doors in those days, even at night. The ice came from the Mississippi River which was not polluted then as it is today. During January and February, when the ice was the thickest on the river, long two foot thick slabs of ice would be cut and hauled by conveyer belt to a large warehouse where it was stored under three or four feet of sawdust. It would keep many years when stored that way. Speaking of ice, the milkman delivered milk early in the morning (about 4 AM) and on cold nights the milk would freeze and push the frozen cream up out of the bottle with the cardboard cap sitting on top of it. Milk was not homogenized in those days and the cream sat on top of the milk.


When I was eight years old, my father had obtained work as a motorman on the city streetcars. He became ill and the doctor told him it was a touch of the flu. He did not get any better after several weeks and went back to his doctor and was told he would get better if he rested. My mother knew he was very sick and borrowed a car in order to take him to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota which was only 45 miles away. In less than one hour there, he was diagnosed with an advanced strain of tuberculosis called "Galloping TB”. My mother took him to a State sanitarium for tubercular patients that same day. As his disease was so contagious, he was quarantined and I was never able to see my father again. He died there six weeks later.


My mother was widowed with two small children at the age of 29 and times were still very bad in 1936 for everyone and jobs of any kind were hard to find. My mother took a job as pastry cook in a downtown drugstore-restaurant in order to feed us. She later got a job teaching school and in 1942, went to work for the city as a relief investigator which paid much better. She was required to own her own car and she bought an almost new Chevrolet from my cousin who had just been drafted into the army and could not make the payments on $33 a month pay. They stopped making cars for civilians throughout the entire war. In addition to a new car my mother's job entitled her to a "C" ration card which entitled her to unlimited gas and new tires. We had gas and tires throughout the war.


I did not go out for sports in school, but worked instead to help supplement our needs. When I was 14 years old my Scoutmaster inherited a bicycle shop but was unable to operate it as he owned and operated a radio repair business, which kept him too busy to run it alone.


I opened the shop every day after school and all day on Saturday. I was able to disassemble, clean, and repair bicycles even though I was only 14. I must have inherited that ability from my father. World War Two started and by 1942, most of the young men were in the service and help was hard to find. I lied about my age to get a social security card and went to work for J.C Penney's for the magnificent sum of 35 cents an hour. I could buy all of my clothes and have spending money with those wages. I would take the summers off from the store and worked for the railroad heating rivets on a boxcar rebuilding crew.


The leader of our crew was a large 300-pound man by the name of Ames. He was exceptionally strong and could drive a rivet flat with ease. He took great pride in the fact that he had the fastest three man (actually a two-man crew and a 16-year-old boy) riveting crew in the yard.


My job was to heat the various sized rivets in the right order and to just the right temperature. I would toss it to his helper under the boxcar, when he called for it. when they called for it. It was also my responsibility to clean up under the car prior to any riveting; paying special attention to any wood that might lie under the boxcar. Whenever a red-hot rivet landed on a piece of wood, it would ricochet off of the wood like a shot.


One morning as we prepared for the days work, Ames was bragging about the new low quarter socks his wife had just bought him. They were made of a new very thin product called rayon, and were for dress and not for work wear, with low quarter dress shoes. He showed them to everyone in the yard.


We started riveting and things were going well until I tossed a hot rivet under the boxcar, where it landed on a stray piece of wood and shot in the air and sounded like an explosion. It came down on the ankle portion of Ames's shoe. Flame shot up and the shoe was immediately burned through and the rayon sock disintegrated in a flash. He came out from under that box car howling and hopping around on one leg until he spotted me and figured out what had happened to him. The last anyone in that yard ever saw of me, was my being chased by a howling and cussing 300-pound mad gorilla. I kept on running and never went back. So much for my riveting career.


In the summer of 1944, a good friend of mine asked me to hitchhike with him to a small town about 30 miles from Winona, to look at a used car that was for sale. The car was a 1933 model 4-door sedan with many miles on it, but the body was in good shape. He bought the car for $175 and we took off for Winona thinking we owned the world. Boys of High School age just did not have cars in those days. We had two high hills to drive over to get to Winona and found that the car did not have enough power to drive to the top of the hill! Benny turned the car around and we backed to the top of the hill in the low gear ratio of reverse gear. We had a lot of fun in that car. I furnished the gas ration stamps and Benny the car. One day we picked up two young ladies in our High School class and gave them a ride home. Benny pulled up in front of the house and I could not open the rear door all the way as it was hitting on a fire hydrant. (The front door was hinged on the front and opened from the rear to the front, while the back door was hinged on the rear and opened from the front to the rear). I told Benny I could not open the rear door and asked him to back up so I could get the door open. As I said this, the girl in the front seat opened the front door as Benny was backing up. I heard a crunch and ripping sound as Benny quickly reversed gears to pull up again. Unfortunately, I had the rear door open as he pulled forward and we ripped the back door off also. In less than 30 seconds, we had ripped both doors off the car and could see them draped over the fire hydrant. We threw them in the back seat and drove off with air-conditioning, something new in those days. Benny never put those doors back on.


I had one more escapade in that car that was memorable. Benny and I were part of the scenery crew for our class play - our senior year. One evening we had just completed painting the scenery boards and noticed that we had a lot of pink paint left. I got the bright idea of making a large paint bomb by taking the base off of a very large (probably 500 watt) burned out stage bulb and filling it with pink paint. We got in Benny's "air-conditioned" car and went looking for a worthy target. We spotted a large white milk truck heading over the bridge and took off after it. As Benny pulled up to the truck, I stood on the running board holding on with one hand and tossed the paint bomb at the truck. It splashed pink paint all over the back of the truck but what we had not foreseen was that it also sprayed paint all over Benny's car and all over the half of me that was outside the car on the running board! My face, hands, and clothes were pink splotches all over. The last time I saw that car was just before I went into the Navy, and it still had two doors missing and was covered with pink splotches.

I worried about the war ending before I could get involved. I joined a group of my classmates in applying for Naval Aviation Cadet training. It would involve one year of college training before entering flight training.

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Col. Larson's Christmas Card to You

Tribute to Col. Ted Guy - PoW


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All Content (c) 1986- Col. Gordon "Swede" Larson
All Else (c) 1986- and donated by Joe Oliver and SOFTVision Concepts, USA
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