I met Alvin Larsen, nicknamed “AD,” at our Santa Clarita Memorial Day ceremony this year and promptly obtained his contact information which led us to recently meeting at his charming Saugus home. At age 95, I found AD’s memory and his articulation quite remarkable along with his collection of memorabilia. Allow me to introduce you to one of Santa Clarita’s few remaining members of our greatest generation.
Alvin D. Larsen was born Dec. 7, 1922, in Richfield, Utah, where he grew up as a farm boy and attended Richfield High School. After World War II broke out and in his senior year, AD landed a job in the defense industry with Geneva Steel Co. in nearby Orem, Utah. He attempted to join the U.S. Army but due to his job with Geneva Steel, AD was held off until Feb. 3, 1943. Once accepted, AD took basic training at Boise Barracks and then he was off to Fort Lewis, Washington, for the next 10 months, where he was assigned to 107th Medical Detachment. AD took medic training but his medical technician military occupation specialty (MOS) was expanded in order for him to receive other assignments such as clerical and driving trucks and ambulances.
Purple Heart Brigade
Following Fort Lewis, AD was sent Camp Barkley near Abilene, Texas, for four months where he became part of a new unit establishing the 172nd General Hospital. Next, AD and his new unit travelled to San Pedro, California, and shipped out seemingly toward the South Pacific, crossing the international dateline on Nov. 30, 1944. However, they arrived in Bombay, India, and promptly took a train to Lido, India. AD became a clerk for General Lewis A. Pick, whose responsibility was overseeing medical care for wounded soldiers from Merrill’s Marauders, nicknamed “The Purple Heart Brigade,” that was battling Japanese forces in Burma. Once the famous 717-mile Burma and Ledo Roads were reconstructed in January 1945, AD’s medical unit relocated to Kunming, China, and was based near the Flying Tigers Air Base.
AD told me about his experience being an auxiliary truck driver and driving the perilous narrow Burma Road with 24 switchbacks that took them to an elevation of 14,000 feet in the Himalayan Mountains. AD said, “That road had to be the scariest road in the whole world to drive. It was extremely steep and we could only drive at night because Japanese fighter planes and ground troops were a constant threat. A crusty old staff sergeant told us if we missed a gear, jump for your lives.” Once at Kunming, AD’s main responsibility was coordinating air travel for wounded soldiers back to various U.S. hospitals depending on individual care requirements. AD told me that one particular facility they used was Birmingham Hospital in the San Fernando Valley, which later became Birmingham High School.
AD was still very busy at Kunming when word came that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan and he recalls everyone speculating that surely this terrible war was about to end. Initially no one could fathom that bomb’s tremendous power and I suppose Japan’s emperor didn’t fully realize its power, either, as it took one more atomic blast for him to surrender unconditionally. On Aug. 15, 1945, World War II officially ended as Nazi Germany had been defeated several months earlier. Soon AD and his 172nd Hospital staff were sent to Shanghai while Japanese soldiers were disarming and repatriating back to Japan. When you stop and think about it, this was a tremendously glorious and historic chapter for America and our numerous allies. Thank God for our greatest generations. Next, the baby boomer generation was about to flood the world.
Jack of All Trades
On Jan. 3, 1946, AD returned to Seattle, and then on to Fort Douglas, Utah, where he was honorably discharged the next month. AD promptly returned to his hometown of Richfield, Utah, and soon landed a job with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service as a junior engineer. Later, AD’s brother-in-law recruited him to help open and manage a Texaco service station where they sold gasoline and handled automobile repairs. In 1952, AD bailed on the gas station and moved to Burbank, where he worked for Lockheed Aircraft Co. His position was aircraft assembly lead man on F-104’s and F-109’s, which lasted five years. Next, AD moved to Sepulveda and began working with studio camera equipment in the entertainment industry, which launched his lucrative career.
A True Miracle
In the early 1980’s, AD was stricken with bladder cancer and was given only seven days to live, but an experimental medical procedure was suggested and implemented, which saved his life. To this day at age 95, AD considers that procedure a true miracle. In 1988, AD moved his family to Saugus, where he still lives, and he then semi-retired. During his studio camera days, AD invented components to a gear head camera and in 2009 he sold his manufacturing rights for a nice profit.
The Loveliest Creature
Back when AD was 22 years old, he met LaPreal Jensen at an outdoor dance hall in her hometown of Redmond, Utah, and when he saw her he instantly thought she was the loveliest creature he had ever seen. Naturally, he couldn’t resist asking her to dance and so it was, love at first sight. LaPreal was only 16 and in high school, but AD escorted her to her junior and senior proms. Following her high school graduation, while driving down an old farm road on Nov. 17, 1947, AD asked for her hand in marriage and she said, “Yes, but I must first ask my Mom.”
AD said, “I must ask your Dad,” and when he did, LaPreal’s Dad told him, “I have to do a background check on you.” This simply meant that he asked a man Alvin worked for if he was a hard worker. The answer was yes, and that was good enough. So, on March 1, 1948, AD and LaPreal were married in a Manti, Utah, Mormon Temple.
Really Large Family
AD and LaPreal had a long, loving bond, raising four wonderful children and having 20 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren, until sadly LaPreal died at age 88 this past Valentine’s Day. With tears in his eyes and choking up, AD recounted burying his lovely companion on their 70th wedding anniversary in her hometown.
Dear Alvin D. Larsen, may God bless you and your outstanding devoted family. You are one of our greatest generation who saved our country and our very freedom.