The Army Air Corps was good to Red Larson

OKEECHOBEE — When he saw that beautiful uniform and the silver wings his friend was wearing, Louis “Red” Larson’s first question was, “What do you have to do to join up?” When World War II began, he, along with several of his buddies was working as a newspaper delivery boy for the Miami Daily News. All of the boys were worried about being drafted said Red and they discussed it with the man in charge of the delivery boys, Dick Albritton. Mr. Albritton had served in World War I and suffered lasting injuries. He reassured the boys the war would be over soon and they had no need to be worried about being drafted, but a year later Red said, things were much worse and everyone he knew was either being drafted or volunteering.

 

Ninety-five-year-old Louis E. “Red” Larson is wearing the Army Air Corps hat his son, John, found for him. Mr. Larson enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943. Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble

Bill Langston, one of his close friends was a year ahead of him in school, and he volunteered for the Aviation Cadet program in the Army Air Corps. Red was working for a dairy farm, milking cows at that time and early one morning in mid-Spring, he was sound asleep in his bed when Bill came into his room and woke him up. That was when he first laid eyes on the Air Corps uniform and asked his friend the million dollar question.

“Boy those wings caught my eye,” said Red. Bill told him there was nothing much to it — just a few tests, so Red started really thinking about it. He talked to a friend and the friend’s parents. He talked to his own parents, but they wouldn’t tell him yay or nay, he said. Finally, he and his friend John Gregory went to Dania and were interviewed. We were only 18,” he said, “so we needed our parents to sign for us, and they did.”

Red started his military career on an Air Force base in Biloxi, Miss., where the recruits were immediately taught the importance of organization, discipline and policing the area. One of the first things he had to do, he said, was to pick up cigarette butts. They were also taught their right foot from their left.

“They made soldiers out of us,” he said. Soon they were out on the firing line completing weapons training. After six weeks of basic training, most of the men went on for further training in air dynamics in Jackson, Tenn. This was where they were taught everything about flying, he explained. This training lasted for about three months. It was tough. If you messed up, you had to walk the post carrying an M16, and you didn’t get to go to town.

His next stop was the San Antonio Cadet Training Center where they concentrated on mental preparation. He was asked tough questions such as, “How would you feel about dropping bombs on defenseless people? Could you drop a bomb on your own family? Could you shoot someone?” You needed to have some pretty sharp answers, said Red.

This is the Mitchell Bomber, one of the B-25s flown by Red Larson during WWII. Special to the Okeechobee News

Red and his friend John were separated at this point because John had a medical condition which prevented him from becoming a pilot. Instead, he became a navigator and was very good at it. Back then, they didn’t have any of the modern navigation systems they have now, said Red. You had to fly by the seat of your pants. You used the stars — three point triangulation, and those boys were good at it. “I would never fly without my navigator. He was an old Iowa farm boy who could wire anything together with barbed wire.”

Red was sent to Del Rio, Texas, for more training. He learned to fly with instruments, practiced night flights and blackout landings. They were sent up with training instructors “watch dogs” to keep them from crashing. “Our training ground was the Gulf of Mexico,” said Red. “They had a big barge out there with targets on it.

They were getting ready to go to Africa and then to England but they never left the U.S., “because they were always threatening to drop that bomb,” said Red. When Thomas Ferebee, the bombardier from the crew of the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, everyone was grounded for several days. Strangely enough, Red said, “Many years later, Mr. Ferebee’s cousin Warren married my wife’s sister. A lot of people gave Ferebee a hard time about dropping that bomb, but if he hadn’t dropped it, most of us probably would have gone to Japan and died. The Air Corp was not kind to its enrollment.

They had a 27 percent fatality rate in training and combat, but we had good instructors and pilots who were worth listening to.

After the bomb was dropped, they were given the option to go home or to stay in, but Red decided he was ready to go home, and within a few weeks, he was on a bus back to Hollywood, Fla. where he said it was like a ghost town, and all his friends were gone.

Red Larson is standing in front of Union University. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

“BUT,” he said. “They did have new pretty girls in town.” He used the GI Bill to go to college, then met and married his late wife Reda. Red and Reda were happily married for 67 years and have four children — Woody, Barbara, Kathy and John. Red celebrated his 95th birthday last week surrounded by all of his siblings, his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

“I made some really good friends while I was there,” said Red. “Two of them stayed in contact all these years.” Guy Lewis coached college basketball for the Houston Oilers. He passed away last year. Norman Lee lives in Pennsylvania but wintered in Sarasota and came to visit every year. We still exchange cards on birthdays and holidays.”

Red sent his GI pay home to his mother every month while he was in the service, and he used that money to buy calves which is how he got started in the dairy business later.

“I joined because I wanted to be popular, good looking and find a pretty girl,” laughed Red.

“The Air Corps was good to me. It taught me discipline.”

Red Larson is enjoying the attention of one of the Ladies of Liberty at the recent Lake Okeechobee News Senior Expo. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Red Larson (left) poses with his flight crew in 1945. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Red Larson (third from left) is standing, with his flight crew, in front of the plane he piloted during WWII. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News

Louis E. Larson’s Aviation Cadet ID card is displayed here.

Red Larson and friends are enjoying their leave.

Nineteen-year-old Red Larson is wearing his flight gear during WWII.

Red Larson is in his Air Corps uniform.

Red Larson is standing in front of the B-52 he piloted during WWII. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Red Larson poses with his father.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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