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PoW Christmas

Former PoW Col. Gordon Swede Larson, USA Today Hotsite


Biography of: Col. Gordon "Swede" Larson - Page Two


I was accepted and sworn in on 1 July 1945 just three weeks after graduating from high school at the age of 17. My first assignment was to Valley City, N.D. to a small state college. There were 62 of us cadets, 9 other men who were 4-F (physically unfit for service) and about 320 girls. That made about 5 girls for each of us! From there I went to the University of Wisconsin where the boy/girl ratio was about 7 to one. It was sure hard to find time to study! When the war in Japan ended the Navy had no further need of aviators, so I reverted to enlisted status and was discharged on 1 August 1946.


I returned to Winona and entered college on the GI-Bill in which my tuition and $100 a month was paid by the government. On paper I majored in Business Administration, but in truth, along with my very good friend Hiram Hanson, I majored in beer, poker, and girls. I got real bored with it all and was ready for something else. One day I saw two Air Force recruiters in school who were there trying to recruit students for pilot training and as it was more appealing than what I was doing, I entered the Air Force as an aviation cadet on 29 September 1948. I was sent to Waco, Texas for primary flight training. I had never been in or around an airplane in my life and I was a little apprehensive about my first flight. It was in an AT-6 trainer - which was a lot of aircraft for a beginner.


I just rode in the front seat and remember vividly that I did not like it. The smell of oil, grease, and fuel coupled with the speed did not sit too well with me and when we landed, I told my instructor that I thought I would take my option of returning to civilian life. He talked me into taking two more rides and if I still wanted out, he would sign my release papers. I found that when I was occupied flying the airplane, instead of just riding in it, flying was not too bad and after the third flight, I was hooked. By the time I finished basic training and went to advanced training in the P-51 Mustang,

I would have paid them to allow me to continue to fly.


I only had one incident in flying school that was noteworthy - and it almost got me thrown out of cadet training. I had two more months of training at Waco before I would be sent to advanced-training when the roof almost caved in. I would occasionally double date with a friend of mine who had a girl friend that had a new 1949 Hudson. It was a monstrous car that had the largest interior I had ever seen, and that included a dashboard that was large enough to serve a buffet on. One Sunday evening we were sitting in her car behind our barracks past our curfew time. I looked out the rear-window and saw the Cadet Officer of the day with the Staff Officer of the day heading toward our car to investigate. My friend "Buck" started the car and took off with the slower jeep fading in the dust. We drove to a parking lot and parked, waiting for things to "cool off" before going back to our barracks. The plan was to drive up to the barracks where he and I would jump out and run for the door while his girl drove off. As we were pulling up to the barracks, I noticed my hat was on the dashboard, and as I started reaching over the seat to get my hat, he hit the brakes and I slid over the front seat hitting my head on that big dashboard. It dazed me and as I looked up, I saw Buck rounding the corner of the barracks in a full gallop. I jumped up and only took a few steps, when about four Military Police, and the Officer of the Day caught me. I felt certain I was going to be booted out. I met a formal Evaluation Board and my only defense was that as I was not driving I had no control over the actions of the driver, and that I would not have run off the first time. Unknown to me at the time was the fact that the Officer of the Day was also dating the girl who owned the car, and really wanted to see who she was with. He also sat in as a board member and insisted I tell him who was driving the car. I refused, and at that point, I was sure I was out. The next day the findings of the board were published and put up on the bulletin board. I still have a copy of those orders and they read as follows:


1.      For the offense "Sitting in parked car with young ladies in area, during Call to Quarters," Aviation Cadet Sergeant Gordon A. Larson is reduced to the grade of private, and awarded (5) demerits, ten (10) tours and restricted for (1) month effective 8 April 1949.


I was still in! With the ten tours (walking with full pack for one hour for each tour and only being able to walk 3 tours on each Saturday, I was effectively restricted for the rest of my time there at Waco, but I didn't care, I was still flying.


An interesting incident occurred one day as I was practicing instrument flying in the back seat of an AT-6 trainer under the hood (a cloth covering that is pulled forward and keeps the pilot in the rear seat from seeing out of the cockpit to simulate flying blind in the clouds). My instructor shook the stick and told me he had control of the aircraft and for me to slide the hood back and to look out the left side of the aircraft at the auxiliary landing field that was about 2 miles away from us and about 20 miles from our base at Waco. I observed a large cloud of dust off to the side of the runway and could see that an AT-6 had slid off the side of the runway and onto the dirt. Approximately 30 seconds later I heard an excited voice say ďthis is Waco 26 with engine trouble and bellying in (landing gear up) on auxiliary field number 2Ē. When it dawned on me what that fast thinking cadet was trying to pull off (flying solo and practicing landings were strictly forbidden and forgetting to put down his gear), I really laughed. My instructor told me to keep what we saw quiet and never to mention it to anyone. He said that anyone thinking that fast and was that cool, would make a great fighter pilot and would be an asset to the Air Force. He was under a lot of suspicion after that, but he finished his training and graduated with the rest of the class.


I was sent to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada the first part of May of 1949, to take advanced flying training in the P-51 Mustang. We were one of the first classes of students to train in an advanced fighter prior to getting our wings. It was a LOT of aircraft for a student pilot with only 185 hours of flying time. We were there for one month of academic training and three months of actual flying. In those three months, 120 students managed to completely wreck 26 aircraft and had about 12 cadets killed. It was truly a great airplane to fly and was the most enjoyable one for me out of the 30 or so that I flew in the Air Force.


I graduated from Nellis and got my wings and commission in September 1949. My first assignment was to Neubiberg, Germany flying P-47 Thunderbolts. P≠47 Thunderbolts.

I was disappointed to find out that I would not be flying jets but I learned to enjoy flying the "Jug".


My first day in the squadron was very memorable. The first night I was at Neubiberg, I went to Munich with a friend and partied too long and hard. I overslept, had a large hangover, and was late to report in for duty my first day in the Squadron. Needless to say, I heard some very harsh words from the Commander and the Operations Officer.


My Flight Commander did not say much but his actions spoke volumes. He took me to the pilotsí locker room, got me a flying suit, helmet, and parachute, and we started walking out to the flight line where the aircraft were parked. I assumed he was going to give me a tour of the P-47 showing me the cockpit. As we approached the aircraft, he pointed to #840 and said that that was to be my aircraft. He told me to start it up and meet him on channel C on the radio and walked off towards another plane. Start it up! I had never seen a P-47 before and certainly didnít know how to start it! He said that the crew chief would help me and off he walked. I still thought it was some kind of sadistic humor. The crew chief helped me into the cockpit and started the engine for me. I looked over at my flight commander and saw that he was frantically waving to me to hurry it up as he had already started taxing! I still couldnít believe he was serious and was only going this far to teach me a lesson. I was lucky - I found the radio and got it turned on as I started taxing out behind him. When he took the runway for takeoff I began to think this had gone far enough but he took off and told me to follow him. I still cannot believe he would have me fly that aircraft without a thorough checkout procedure and briefing. If I had had more sense, I would have refused, but a brand new Second Lieutenant did not question a Captain, so off I went. I think the plane flew me more than I flew it. I followed him around for about 30 minutes when he told me to do a loop. Having gone this far, I went into a dive and went to full throttle. The only trouble was that I didnít know what airspeed was needed to pull the plane through a loop. Whatever speed I attained, it was too slow and I stalled out at the top of the loop and my plane did a severe hammerhead stall and entered a weird spin. Somehow I got the plane out of the spin and started a wobbly climb to join him. I was soaking wet and shaking like a leaf when I heard him say, "That was impressive, can you do it again?" I donít remember how I got that plane back on the ground but somehow made it back without further incidents. It was three weeks later and about fifteen flights in the "Jug" before I filled out a questionnaire on the plane and another month before someone found out that I hadnít had my field checkout in the T-6. Both were a requirement before flying the "Jug" - but things were real loose over there in those days. Because of the lax supervision (only 4 years after the war), many pilots were killed and most of them were needless. I went overseas with eight other new pilots and only five of us came back. One of them was permanently grounded because he wiped out a wingman on a tree on a low- level pass. I had five roommates during my three-year tour and four of them were killed in aircraft accidents.


It didnít take me long to learn about justice for Junior Officers back in the late 40's and early 50's. I was returning late one afternoon from a short trip in the AT-6. Almost everyone had gone home and I was in a hurry to park the aircraft and get on with the eveningís activities. I was taxing faster than normal when two Airmen in a big truck pulled out in front of me to cross the taxiway. When the driver noticed that I was bearing down on him he panicked and flooded the engine trying to get out of my way and stalled the truck in the center of the taxi way. I did not see him and wrapped the bird around the truck right after they bailed out. The plane was a total wreck. I located two senior Sergeants who would testify on my behalf at the investigation board, stating that they observed me taxing at a normal speed. I also found out that the driver did not have a license to drive the truck and I felt I was home free. Not so! When I went before the Board, I saw that the Board President was the Commander of the driver and I had a bad feeling things were not going to go very well for me. Sure enough, my Squadron Commander owed the other Commander a favor and paid him back with my head on a plate. The license was never mentioned, the sergeants never testified, and it was over in a matter of several minutes. I was charged with the accident and the truck driver was only a contributing factor. Fortunately, tearing up an airplane in those days didnít mean much and the accident didnít have any effect on me - other than my pride.


A year after arriving, we were re-equipped with jets and I started flying F-84s.

I had a fabulous time there. We were only an hour away from the best skiing in Europe and I spent three wonderful winters on the slopes of Germany and Austria. I traveled extensively throughout Europe. I flew and traveled to Austria, Belgium, France, Monaco, England, Scotland, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy, Turkey, Malta, Algeria and Morocco.


While the tour there was truly great, there were moments when they were not so great. Being a bachelor, I lived in the Bachelor Officers Quarters and had 4 roommates there. The first three were killed in aircraft accidents and all by pilot error. I was certainly a jinx to live with.


In the spring of 1951 I was made D flight commander. We were all bachelors and seemed to get all the TDY (temporary duty) assignments but we loved it.


Our squadron deployed to gunnery camp at Wheelis Field, at Tripoli, North Africa, several times each year. On my first trip there we were flying P-47s and carried two very large belly tanks under each wing in order to make the trip from Germany to Tripoli non-stop. When we landed, the ground crew removed the tanks (approximately 48) and stored them in a large tent that had been erected for that purpose. (primarily) to keep the sand out of them). The tanks were stacked and filled the entire tent. At night, armed guards patrolled the area to keep the Arabs from stealing everything that was not tied down. In the morning when we arrived on the flight line, we saw the 48 tanks still piled up. But Arabs had somehow stolen that large and very heavy tent without alerting the roving guards and did not tumble over the stack of tanks. We never did figure out how they accomplished that.


On another trip to Tripoli, we were flying F-84s and on the morning we were to fly back to Germany, we had 8 airplanes out of commission, and each one of them would require a test hop before it could be flown back. The Squadron Commander asked me if I would test hop 4 of the planes so that they could go back with him, and when maintenance finished repairing the other 4, I could lead them back in several days. (As a bachelor, what could I say!). I flew 4 quick test hops and released the first 4 planes. The maintenance people were anxious to get back and worked feverishly on the other planes and after I had flown 3 of them and they all pleaded with me to fly all 4 back when the 4th one checked out OK. It was getting late, I was tired, and the weather back in Germany was not very good. When I found that they had packed my bags while I was flying, I relented and started out with 3 very weak wingmen. One was the Commissary Officer who was not a full time pilot. Another was a weak element lead and the third was the best of the group, but was a Portuguese Captain that could not speak English and understood very little. After we passed Rome, the weather was solid at our altitude and we were on instruments. The radio navigation equipment was not able to pick up the German stations and I was flying on dead reckoning. When we had flown the pre-planned time, I called for all of us to extend our speed brakes, on my signal. Great idea, but unknown to me, my hydraulic system had malfunctioned. When I signaled for everyone to extend theirs at the same time, theirs came out and mine did not and I shot ahead of them where they lost sight of me as we were in the ďsoupĒ. (Solid overcast). Now for my next big trick---wow, where do we go from here? Only one (?) of them could safely make it back on his own and the other two would never make it. I had immediately throttled back on the power to slow down and saw my element leader pull back up on my wing. (He was the one I worried the least about!). About that time, I saw number 4-catch sight of us and pulled into position, but my Portuguese wingman was nowhere in sight. Suddenly I looked down and spotted a faint outline of his airplane and told him to pull up slowly. When he did not respond, I descended with our group and pulled up on his wing. When he looked out and saw us he grinned with happiness, but my joy was certainly greater than his. All this took time and when we started down, it was at a much lower rate of decent due to my hydraulic failure. We let down straight-ahead and broke out from the clouds at about 1,000 feet. I immediately recognized the area as being due East of the field, made a left turn and landed several minutes later. We were all on fumes, as the unknown headwinds had slowed us up appreciably. If we had let down when I initially started to, it would have been too soon because of the headwinds, and not having gone far enough to clear the Alps. We would have all flown into the Alps ruining our day completely! What is the saying-God looks after fools and fighter pilots!


When I returned to the United States for reassignment in November 1952, I was assigned to Del Rio, Texas as a gunnery instructor. It was a desolate place but though we worked long hours we had a good time there. I attended the Fighter Weapons School in Las Vegas and when I returned, I became the Wing Gunnery Officer and Standardization Officer while still a First Lieutenant. I was a member of the gunnery team those years and had a lot of good flying at Del Rio. It was there I met Mary and we were married in May of1954.


From there we were transferred to Luke AFB, in Arizona where Bob was born on New Years Eve of 1955. It was two years of instructing and not a very noteworthy time. Lots of good flying, great fishing, (that is where I met my good friend Ted Guy and taught him how to fish), and excellent hunting.

Col. Ted Guy.
He passed away 23 April 1999,
from complications associated
with Lukemia.
Click Here to visit his website.


I was transferred to Osan Air Base, Korea in 1957 and was the Squadron Operations Officer. The flying was great and I loved my job. Mary, Mike, and Bob stayed in San Antonio while I was in Korea and lived across the street from her sister and brother-in-law, James and Geneva Bishop.


I returned to the States in1958 and received the worst assignment of my entire military career, B-47 bombers


at Lockbourne AFB, in Columbus, Ohio, which was where Pamela was born. The Strategic Air Command was building by leaps and bounds at that time due to the cold war heating up, and they desperately needed pilots to fill their new bombers and to enlarge the full time alert posture. Dragging my heels all the way, I upgraded into bombers. I realized I had three choices for my future. I could continue to drag my heels and only hurt myself, I could get out of the Air Force and fly for some airline, or I could try to get along with those multiengine drivers and show them that a fighter pilot could fly those aluminum overcasts, too (fighter-pilots and multiengine pilots are a "different breed of catĒ and I never did feel at home with them). I had a five-man crew and they were sharp individuals. We went from non-combat ready crew status, to combat ready, to Select Crew status in 15 months, which was a new record. We were immediately given temporary "Spot Promotions" and stayed that way until we were transferred as a crew to B-52H's at Homestead, Florida in 1960.


Our family life was great there. Great weather and good fishing. I however, was very discontented and wanted back in fighters in the worst way. I applied continually but SAC would not release me. In 1966 the Air Force was really strapped for fighter-pilot replacements for the Vietnam War and SAC could no longer refuse requests for transfers to fighters. My application was the first to leave the base when applications had to be forwarded and could no longer be rejected at base level. Two weeks later I was almost delirious with joy when I received orders back to fighters. I was then a Lieutenant Colonel and knew I would get command of a combat squadron.


I went back to Nellis AFB in Las Vegas for refresher training and checkout in the F-105.

It was just like riding a bicycle after seven years, you never forget. I qualified as expert in every phase of gunnery training and finished the course ahead of time. I went to the Philippines for Jungle Survival training and reported to Korat Air Base in Thailand, in December of 1966. I was assigned to the 469th Fighter Squadron and was assigned as Commander four weeks later.

   A Few Links   

Col. Larson's Christmas Card to You

Tribute to Col. Ted Guy - PoW


Operation Just Cause

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