World War II vet

Stoughton resident Curt Larson, pictured with his daughter Sue Petkovsek, served three years in World War II after being drafted at the age of 19.

On Aug. 11, Stoughton lost a World War II hero.

Curt Larson, my dad, had four near-death experiences and fought on the front lines for 165 consecutive days and earned a Purple Heart.

He was 96 years old when he died, and like so many others he served with, his legacy and service to his country should never be forgotten.

Curt was drafted into the U.S Army at the age of 19 and completed his basic training at Camp Roberts, California. Due to a shortage of soldiers, he wasn’t given the typical seven-day furlough and was shipped directly overseas.

As his ship passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, Curt and his fellow soldiers flipped a coin into the ocean. Heads, they’ll make it home; tails; they wouldn’t. My dad was one of the lucky ones who made it home.

He served in New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, New Zealand, Luzon and the island of Vella Lavella.

While on Vella Lavella in 1943, Curt dove into his first foxhole during an air raid. It was on this island he would see American graves, his first reality of war.

While there, Curt was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. He slept in foxholes in the jungle and wore the same clothes for 60 days.

There was no place to set up a kitchen or bed. His company had to live on C-rations, which contained three meals in a container the size of a Cracker Jack box,

In New Caledonia, he spent nine months training to get ready for combat. Then, he traveled to Luzon, Philippines, where he would spend 165 days on the front lines. His company was the only division throughout the entire South Pacific, to spend that many consecutive days on the front lines.

The first of his near death experiences was when he was walking through high weeds and came face to face with a Japanese soldier 15 feet away. They were both so scared, they turned and ran away.

In the second, Curt was on patrol and was shot at by four Japanese soldiers for 15 minutes as he lay behind a tree. His fellow soldiers saved him by attacking the soldiers from behind.

The third happened while in his foxhole. He was hit by shrapnel as two of his lieutenants were killed five yards away from him. For this, he was awarded a Purple Heart on Dec. 1. 1945.

His last near-death encounter was in a rice paddy with a fellow solider. They heard shooting, so they hit the ground and kept still.

After laying on the ground for quite a while, his fellow solider said he needed to sit up, but Curt warned him not to. The soldier sat up, anyway, and was killed immediately. Curt laid next to his fallen soldier until it was safe to leave.

Curt also witnessed a Japanese solider commit harakiri. The soldier held a grenade to his chest and pulled the pin.

During some of the heaviest combat, the Japanese were shooting so heavily Curt’s company had to stay in the same location for three days.

While there, a first lieutenant who graduated from West Point came to see exactly where the Japanese soldiers were located. The company warned him to stay back for fear of getting shot. He didn’t listen.

This first lieutenant had spent four years at West Point, and within 15 minutes on the front lines, he was killed.

Curt witnessed Gen. Douglas MacArthur coming ashore on Oct. 20, 1944. He was famous for saying “I shall return,” to the troops, and Curt was there when he did that.

His saddest day was when he lost his best friend, Cassie Gest, who was shot by enemy fire.

Curt’s company left Japan in December 1945 to be shipped back to the United States. As the soldiers arrived, they were so excited to see the Statue of Liberty, they all gathered to one side of the ship and almost tipped it over.

After returning home, he married my mom, Lolly, and they were married for 36 years until her death in 1985. He had three daughters: myself, Kristi Huston and Sally Knickmeier. He worked at the Stoughton Post Office for 32 years until retirement.

My dad was a very proud veteran and proud to serve his country for that three years of his life.

Sue Petkovsek is a Stoughton resident and proud daughter of a veteran.