Radioman, United States Coast Guard
World War II (1939 – 1945)
Good Conduct and Campaign Medals
Pearl Harbor Survivor
George Larsen was born on February 21, 1918, in San Francisco, California, but he later moved to Marin County and graduated from San Rafael High School in 1936. Three years later, he decided to join the United States Coast Guard. He considered joining the Navy, but he did not wish to commit to the six-year enlistment, so he enlisted in the Coast Guard’s three-year duty. He was not the only member of his family to become involved in service to his country, though. His father was in the maritime service as the head of a ship owner’s association of the Pacific coast, and George Larsen was able to convince his sister to take part in the Army and the SPARS Coast Guard. Larsen’s wife was also a technical sergeant in and model for the Women’s Army Corps.
When Larsen joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939, he was sent to Port Townsend, Washington, for his boot camp training. “It was a brand new station, and nobody knew what they were doing,” he remarks, for the recruited soldiers were very young and inexperienced. The experience was not what he expected, and he remembers thinking, “What did I join?…I must be in some kind of fixer because it doesn’t sound good to me.” Nonetheless, Larsen was made the officer in charge, and he helped set up the training camp and taught recruits how to row a boat, though he was not completely familiar with the Coast Guard program. “I didn’t like it at all, but we made it through.” He spent two months there before he was sent to Alameda, California, for his first assignment.
In Alameda, Larsen was assigned to a 165-foot cutter for two months with just one other person. “We made so much trouble by the way we acted that we were sent to Hawaii and assigned to another big cutter,” he recalls, chuckling. He spent the years 1940 through 1943 in the Pacific on a ship and on the shore station in Honolulu.
On the ship, Larsen noticed that radio officers did not have to spend time out in the cold weather, so he decided to try to become a radioman. Having taken six months of typing in high school, he was at an advantage, and after an apprenticeship, he became a third class radioman in December of 1941. He made his way up eventually to first class, as he became an honorary master chief.
In Honolulu, Hawaii, Larsen was put into radio intelligence and lived at the radio shore station at Diamond Head. “I was sent there,” he declares, “to handle ship-to-shore stuff for the Coast Guard and Merchant Marines; I wasn’t sent to do the copying, but it was all in the same building.” By copying, Larsen implied copying the Japanese. America was not in the war with Japan yet, but Larsen recalls having to take a second oath that he would not tell anybody what he and the radio seamen were doing, which was secretly copying the Japanese. “I guess it was against the law to copy anything off the air, or something like that,” says Larsen.
Hawaii was a much more pleasant experience than boot camp. The food was delicious, as he had a first class cook, and because he was stationed within walking distance of Waikiki Beach, he spent much of his free time in hotel bars. He really liked his communication officer, as well, for he treated his men nicely. “I never had a bad time,” Larsen reflects. With constant communication with his family and plenty of supplies, Larsen thoroughly enjoyed his time here. The fact that he was never injured, that there were only two to three people in his unit, and that he was paid extra for his service helped him cope with the experience, too. He never took unnecessary leaves in order to avoid paying passage to come back to the United States, but he was sent on one twenty-day leave during which he returned home and convinced his sister to join the Coast Guard.
Larsen spent most of his wartime service on a ship, and he even travelled to Calcutta, India, several times. Throughout his service, Larsen earned several good conduct medals and European and South Pacific campaign medals. “I thought I did pretty good,” he remarks, and it showed through his honorable discharge on November 2, 1945, after six years of service in World War II.
He felt his peers treated him very well when he returned home. He recalls having a few firemen apologize to him for not having served in the war themselves, but Larsen did not feel that everybody had to be in the service.
Upon his return home, Larsen met his wife and married her within eight months of their first encounter. He also began working for a Ford dealer and was excited to mention that he received a custom-painted apple green convertible for only $1100. Coming out of the Depression, Larsen was very pleased.
Due to Depression’s effects on him and his family, he was unable to attend college before the war. When he arrived home, though, he attended college in Portland, Oregon, in communications, resulting in a radiophone license that allowed him—and still allows him—to work in radio and television broadcast anywhere in the United States. From this stemmed his career as a television engineer, working for NBC and KRON. Larsen even performed the first telecast from San Francisco to Paris.
With his new career and a new life ahead of him, Larsen was able to return to civilian life. He has never forgotten his service in World War II, however. He recalls his toughest part of service trying to keep up with current events happening in the world. The scariest moment for him dealt with the Japanese. “We had a warming that the Japanese had two planes coming in to bomb Pearl Harbor at night,” he remembers. “I was sent up on the top of the bridge with glasses to see if I could spot it.…I could hear them, but I couldn’t see them….I was nervous as could be.” With the difficulties of keeping himself up to date and the nervous encounter with the Japanese, Larsen laughingly stated that the finest part of his service was when he was discharged.
Larsen has had much time to reflect on his service, and he is truly recognized for serving his country. He has attended several reunions back east, he is recognized in a museum in Honolulu, and he is president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors. When asked if he believed the war was justified, he responded, “The war wasn’t justified as far as the enemies starting a war, but I figured we would finish it up for them. I don’t know why they thought they had to have a war, but once they attacked us, I was all for beating them down….Why do people have to go to war? I could never understand how somebody could think they rule the world.” However, he advises those who wish to serve to obey orders and be reasonable.
Larsen appreciates his time spent in the war and is happy to reside in the comfort of his own home in Marin County.
Interviewed by Gabriella Aversa and Kathryn Khalvati on August 11, 2011.