Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I sent this Obit' to the Website of the Bloody Hundredth


My father, Merlin N. Larsen, has just this morning passed away, moved on, checked out. He's no longer with us. He was a great father, and as far as Mom has indicated, a fine husband. The last two years of his long life (he was 83) he was a fading shadow of the man he used to be. But now he is at rest.

His combat tour spanned late February through April, 1945.

Dad never talked very often or much about his brief career as a heavy bomber pilot. But the few anecdotes he shared are treasures to me:

How he flew his plane full of crew down into the Grand Canyon, then buzzed the Rim coming out, after coming to his senses (I don't know which Rim though), evidently being the guilty party to the reported disturbance of president Roosevelt's son's honeymoon.

How he landed for fuel in Greenland taking their plane over to England. And how his copilot broke his arm playing in a ball game, and thus missed all but the last few of their combat missions. And how is replacement copilot was a man who was "all flakked up." He just sat there and couldn't do a thing.

Of the time when a mission was scrubbed because the clouds just went all the way up; and coming back to England on instruments was almost a calamity, because another B-17 nearly collided with them in the murk: the tail gunner screamed a warning over the radio and Dad dumped the nose of his plane, and then this other B-17, holding a steeper angle of descent, went right on over them so close "you could have reached up and touched it" and was instantly lost in the clouds ahead.

How his engineer, the top turret gunner loosed off a burst once (Dad told me this, when I asked him once, "Did any of your gunners ever shoot down any German fighters?").*

How he came back on three engines a couple of times. And he showed me a souvenir shard of a German 88mm shell, as big as your finger, that a mechanic took out of a stopped engine.

How after the war, he was picking up troops and taking them to N Africa (preparing for the abortive push of men to the Pacific). And how, at Marrakesh, he took off with locked controls?! He and his copilot fumbled for the pins as the B-17 veered toward the control tower, and barely got his ailerons freed up in time to prevent a crash. I thought this last event the most illustrative of Dad's emotional state: how the war was over, everyone was relieved and eager to get back Home; attention to the "little" details, like a preflight check, went by the board. (Men died tragically for much less than that.)

Anyway, Merlin N. Larsen passed away on the morning of 2 April 2008, from complications incident with old age (not to mention that he fell twice in the last two weeks and hit his head).

(I believe that two of his crew still live.)

*Years ago, his engineer made photo copies of hand written notes that he had composed of each mission, and sent them to all the surviving crew members. I will get copies for myself, scan them, and forward them to you, if you would like that. They make brief but interesting reading! Especially the mission where the top gunner (the author of said-notes, coincidentally), did indeed throw out a burst at a passing ME 262; that was the only time that the crew saw enemy fighters close enough to shoot at, and, iirc, one of only two missions where enemy fighters were sighted. Also, iirc, that mission was the same one as the time they took such heavy flak that their plane was holed dozens of times. The last four or five combat missions (of the 19 they made, 22 all told, I believe, including the flights after the war ended), however, were "milk runs", no fighters and no flak: the engineer, on some of those mission notes, drew a little "milk" bottle.


Doug Larsen

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