Lt. Col. James Russell Larson, USAF Ret., passed away in Blanco, Texas, on Monday, February 23, 2009, four days short of his 89th birthday. He will be buried on Friday, March 6, in Ft. Snelling Military Cemetery in Minneapolis, MN, with full military honors, with his wife, Alice (0wen).
Known as “Russ,” he was born on a farm seven miles south of Kanawha, Iowa on February 27, 1920, to Joseph and Ruth (Richardson) Larson, and graduated from Belmond Township 4 Country School and Belmond High School. He farmed with his family and enlisted after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He graduated from the Army Air Corps’ Flying Cadet Program at Brooks Air Base, near San Antonio, Texas. When a buddy called him “Swede,” the nickname stuck, even though his family was Norwegian.
As “Swede Larson,” he was first assigned to Panama to protect shipping routes and then to North Africa. From Sicily and Corsica, he flew into Italy, Southern France and Eastern Europe with the 4th Fighter Squadron, and was an exchange officer with the British Royal Air Force, protecting the oil fields of the Middle East. He flew the P-39, P-40, Spitfire and P-51. After the war ended, he served as the commander of the single engine aircraft section at Brooks, the military commander for the southern half of Indiana, Central Kentucky and Southeast Illinois, reopened the air base in Kearney, Nebraska, and was the military governor of Hokkiado, Japan during the occupation. From Japan, he participated in the police action in Korea, flying the F-80, in the first use of jet powered aircraft in combat. In all, he flew 208 combat sorties and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, eight air medals, three unit citations, and many other medals and ribbons.
After a peace-time career as “Jim,” that took him to the Azores, Germany and several states, he retired from the Air Force in 1970. He returned to Iowa, and received his last nickname, “the Colonel.” With his youngest son, Joseph, he farmed until his passing. He maintained his love of flying and, for many years, the Colonel kept a single-engine plane at the Clarion, Iowa airport. In his later years, he spent the “off season” in Blanco, Texas, where several of his flying buddies had retired.
He was married to Alice Owen, who died in 1980 after a long illness. He is survived by his daughter, Patricia (Peter) Saunders, of Chicago, IL; sons James, Jr. (Mary), of Philadelphia, PA; John, of Corvallis, OR; and Joseph (Peggy), of Goodell, IA; ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his sisters, Doris Shear, of Kanawha, IA; Clarice Yarger, of San Diego, CA, and Joanne Betten, of New Hampton, IA and many nieces, nephews, cousins and friends. He was predeceased by his wife, Alice; a sister, Marion Didio Urnst, of Belmond, IA; a brother, Lowell, of New Hampton, IA; and a granddaughter, Adrienne Generalis.
During his lifetime, he flew 43 different types of aircraft and logged over 17,000 hours of military and civilian pilot time. He also piloted many farm craft and logged uncounted hours of field time. The family invites all who knew him as Russ, Swede, Jim, the Colonel, Dad, Grandpa, brother, uncle, cousin and friend to come to a memorial party in his honor at the family farm he loved on Saturday, July 18, 2009.