SAN ANTONIO – On Memorial Day, we remember the lives of servicemen and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice, but also the life of a local man who witnessed some of the worst loss of life.
Up until three weeks ago, Colonel Gordon “Swede” Larson was the second-oldest American prisoner of war still alive.
The colonel died on May 12 and will be buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery next week, where his story and legacy will be honored.
Larson’s career in the Air Force started after World War II. His tours of duty as a B-47 and B-52 bomber pilot in Germany, the U.S. and during the Korean war prepared him to train as a volunteer fighter pilot, then commander flying F-105 aircraft in Vietnam.
After 94 harrowing missions, in some of the worst conditions, his 95th mission would change his life.
In 1967, he was shot down in North Vietnam. The crash and landing broke his back and the North Vietnamese Army captured him. He spent the next six years in a hell that has since become known as the “Hanoi Hilton.” And he was paraded initially before the media in a cringe-worthy series of pictures and videos as propaganda for the North Vietnamese Army.
Some of the videos can be found today on a POW Facebook page, narrated by Larson himself.
“The first night at the prison, they took me downtown, then they gave me my flying suit to put on. I remember the press taking pictures of my feet,” Larson said, remembering that with each step taken, a bloody footprint of his followed.
Instead of medical care for his broken bones, Larson says his captors would tie him in ropes so tightly that it would cut the tendons in his arms and pulled his arms out of their sockets.
Larson said the torture was routine and his pain is clearly visible in the photos and videos.
The images of him were constantly circulated around the world to crush U.S. troop morale.
“I was in shock, in deep pain and only vaguely aware of where I was and who was there in front of me,” Larson said during a British interview.
According to Larson, the starved and weak would not be paraded in front of the cameras, so eventually, the photo ops would stop, but he would watch others lose their lives in the military prison.
In 1973, Larson was brought home, still in pain, but ready to start a new life in San Antonio with his wife and their young children.
He suffered lifelong pain from the serious injuries he had endured as a POW and celebrated as a successful racehorse owner and trainer with many a win. He died at the age of 93 in San Antonio.
Larson will be remembered for his many accomplishments, including the Silver Star for his leadership under fire. You can find more on what Vietnam POW endured by clicking here.