PFC Duane Larson
462nd Parachute Field Artillery Batallion A
503rd Regimental Combat Team,
KIA 2/26/45 on Corregidor
-- Dolane Larson --
"I dare you!"
Clambering up the ladder of a boxcar stopped on a high stone bridge and
then diving off from its roof into the swiftly moving currents of the St.
Joe River took a certain amount of nerve. Maybe my father chose to be a
paratrooper because when he was a boy he grew to like the wind in his face
as he jumped from the boxcars into the dark waters of the current furrowed
"I double dare you!
Duane Larson was born on May 17, 1917, in Niles, a small southwestern
Michigan town called the City of Four Flags because the flags of Spain,
France, England and the United States had flown over Fort St. Joseph. Niles
was, even during the Depression, an idyllic place to grow up. Perhaps my
father and his siblings did not know that the St. Joseph River was one of
only two rivers in the world to flow north; what they did know was that it
provided free food and fun year round. What boy could be bored when he could
be swimming, fishing, boating, ice skating, or just messing around in the
woods like Huck Finn?
My father worked for a time at the Niles News Agency, but like so many
small town boys he was restless and rode his Harley Davidson to California to
see what was on other side of the mountains. By October of 1941 he had joined
the 19th Coast Artillery. His early swimming feats stood him in good stead
and he was able to save a man's life by pulling him from the riptide off the
California coast. Then came Pearl Harbor and the Army. Jump school for
paratroopers was a four week course at Fort Benning, GA. On February 11,
1943, he married Dolores Van Skiver in Fayetteville, NC. By the time Battery
A of the 462nd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion was activated on June 16,
1943, my father had been married for five months. He had trained at Camp
MacKall, NC, made jumps with howitzers, fired on the range at Fort Bragg, NC,
and finally received his moving orders. On February 28, 1944, the battalion
left Camp McCall, NC, for the overseas staging area at Camp Stoneman,
California. The paratroopers boarded the "Sea Cat" headed for Brisbane,
On March 29, 1944, the 462nd debarked at Brett's wharf, Brisbane, and
joined the 503 PIR at Camp Cable. Sometime after that, word reached my father
that he had a baby girl, born one day after he had arrived in Australia and
named Dolane, a combination of Dolores and Duane. He sent his new daughter a
lovely white lace dress and matching bonnet. Pictures arrived back showing a
placid infant wearing "the outfit Daddy sent from Australia."
Training continued with marches and jumps and although the men did not
consider it overly strenuous they did feel they were gaining valuable
experience. By September of 1944, the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, the
462nd parachute Artillery Battalion and the 161st Parachute Engineer Company
had formed the Regimental Combat Team. From Australia the team went on to
Noemfoor and from there to Leyte and Mindoro. The Team's biggest challenge
awaited them in Corregidor.
Tokyo had warned the Japanese commander, Itagaki, to be prepared for an
airborne landing, but Itagaki had studied the terrain and judged an airborne
landing "not doable." On February 16, 1945, he was looking out to sea at the
34th Infantry's 3rd Battalion landing barges and never noticed the white
blossoming C-47's until some 25 to 30 paratroopers, blown off course, landed
practically on top of him. The troopers formed up and fired, killing Itagaki
and eight others around him.
"The men who floated down over Corregidor on that sparkling morning of
February 16, 1945, represented not only a new way of warfare, but also a new
breed of American soldier, the paratrooper." [Belote, 225] The "tough and
aggressive" paratroopers knew that the Corregidor jump was not going to be a
picnic. They were to jump onto a three and a half mile long by one mile and
a half mile wide tadpole of an island, "the worst jump field ever used for
an airborne operation," from the dangerously low altitude of 400 feet .The
calculations made beforehand did not lie - "it was impossible to place all of
the paratroopers in the area and yet it had to be attempted. ..." [Flanagan, 165]
The Brass had decided that a vertical attack was the only way to retake Corregidor
and that a 10% to 50% casualty rate was acceptable.The C-47's would fly over one
after the other and deliver a stick of 8 men at each pass onto either a small golf
course (nine holes) or a postage stamp sized parade ground, each torn up after
heavy bombing and covered with big chunks of concrete and splintered tree trunks.
Although the casualty rate was "only 13%," troopers were fired upon as they descended
and some were severely injured or killed. My father landed safely, but he had
only ten more days to live.
James Wilcox described for me what the landing was like for his gun section
in Battery A:
"Your father, whom I called Larson, and Brayton, his best friend, were the finest
paratroopers and the backbone of our section. A section is one 75 MM Pack Howitzer
and a crew of about ten men.
"...We were most fortunate in our jump. Our equipment landed in the exact
center of our drop zone... . The net result was that our section had its gun
assembled and at our rendezvous point HOURS before the next section arrived.
The other two sections had been jumped off the top of the island, some even
into the sea, and didn't get there at all. I'm telling you this so that you
will know what kind of soldier your dad was.
"Larson was about six feet, fair complexion, light hair and medium
weight,... a nice looking man. He was courteous, well-mannered and mature.
Brayton was also like that, which was perhaps why they were buddies. He ...
was always a pleasure to be around because of his decency, maturity, and
By February 26, the men had reached the tail of the tadpole at Monkey
Point and were "mopping up." Already General MacArthur was making plans
for his return to Corregidor. Just northeast was a little ridge and under it
was an underground network of tunnels which had housed the Navy's Radio
Intercept Station. Unknown to the men on Monkey Point, the Japanese had
packed the caves under the ridge with explosives. Battery A of the 462nd had
moved along the shore road just past the tunnel entrances; two tanks were
helping the soldiers close these entrances off. At ll:05 one of the tanks
fired into the sloping entrance of the Monkey Point tunnel. Simultaneously,
a violent explosion lifted the top off the ridge over the Radio Intercept
Station. Both 35 ton tanks flew into the air and tumbled end over end down
the ridge. Bodies were lifted high and rained down again in pieces. A chunk
of debris landed on a destroyer over a mile away. The little ridge was now
only a hole in the ground. Sergeant Eugene Bert found himself down in the
valley and couldn't remember how he got there. When he scrambled back up to
the top of Monkey Point, the first sight that met his eyes was my father,
crushed under a huge boulder.
My father, his best friend Lawrence Brayton and the rest of the dead were
wrapped in ponchos; the line of bodies along the road extended over 100 feet.
My father's body remained in the Philippines until after the war. On
February 21, 1949, when a military escort accompanied him back to Niles, his
life had come full circle. In St. Mary's he had been baptized and from St.
Mary's he was taken to Calvary Cemetery to be buried . My grandfather walked
to his grave every day for the rest of his life.
Although "the presence of his absence" has been with me all my life, it
is thanks to AWON that I was able to get in touch with those who knew him.
Even though our fathers never saw us nor were even on the same continent as
we were, "for one brief shining moment" in time, our fathers and mothers and
we children were a family . Now it is up to us, the AWON children, to see
that the legacy of the greatest generation is not forgotten.