Vietnam veteran, active Legion member Terry Larson to lead Fourth of July parade
Service to country and community are important factors to consider when selecting a grand marshal for a Fourth of July parade.
By those key criteria, Terry Larson is an ideal fit. The Forest Lake veteran is used to working behind the scenes, but he will be in the spotlight leading Thursday’s parade.
The native of Rice Lake, Wis., grew up in Columbia Heights. Larson, upon graduating from high school in 1966, signed up for the Marine Corps’ two-year enlistment program.
He served a 13-month tour in Vietnam starting in 1967. Once there, he was put into Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines – the famed infantry unit that became known as The Walking Dead after being described as such by Ho Chi Minh.
Larson and the 1/9 fulfilled patrol missions near the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone and protected an outpost where other American forces tested new technologies. They also operated the Ontos, a three-man antitank vehicle mounted with six 106 mm recoilless rifles.
The 1/9 was known for its high mortality rate, and Larson said his time in the service is a chapter of his life that he mainly keeps closed.
Still, he attends Forest Lake’s annual Vietnam Veterans Day event, and keeps in touch with another Minnesotan from the 1/9.
“Most of my memories are good memories,” Larson said. “I still have occasional flashbacks and nightmares, but most of what I remember was good.”
It took awhile, but Forest Lake’s American Legion Post 225 eventually benefited in a big way from Larson’s move here in the early ’80s.
He and his family – son, daughter and then wife – moved north from Apple Valley to be closer to their cabin in northwest Wisconsin. Larson maintained an active membership with the Legion in Apple Valley, serving as the post’s commander in 1985.
Over the years, though, he came to know more and more people from Post 225 and ultimately transferred his membership.
“I didn’t really get active until about 2000, but then when I did, I got pretty active,” he said.
He joined the Color Guard as one of his first duties here, and it is one he still fulfills.
“It’s good to pay respect to our fellow veterans, so that’s one of the things that I really enjoy,” he said.
Larson has been an officer for Post 225 and has served as the membership chairman since 2004. Upon retiring in 2009 from a trucking career, he spent several years as club and gambling manager. He also coordinates the Legion’s Red Cross blood drives.
He has been a key volunteer for the Legion’s sponsorship of the annual Independence Day celebration, taking on such tasks as providing security or overseeing vendors. He also is a life member of Forest Lake’s VFW Post 4210.
This laundry list of service made Larson an easy choice for the grand marshal role.
“Terry Larson has worn many hats at the American Legion, but that hat he wears most proudly is that of a veteran,” said Post 225 Commander Krista Goodyear. “He is a very patriotic person and always reminds us here at the American Legion of our mission to support America’s veterans.”
Larson found the news “very unexpected” and was slow to accept the honor.
He has since come to embrace it and will share in the day with his two granddaughters, his mother, a sister and brother and his daughter-in-law.
Larson also has a son, Patrick, a St. Paul fireman who served in the Army, and a daughter, Terri Jo, who lives in Cincinnati. Both are Forest Lake High School graduates.
The 65-year-old remains active in Post 225 despite running an orchard in Almelund with 30 trees and a pumpkin patch.
Even on his special day, duty calls. Larson will enjoy a few hours with his family after the parade but signed up to help with the fireworks show at night.
“I’ve got a lot of good relationships here at the Legion, a lot of good memories,” he said. “My family says I do too much here … but unless a person was in the service, I’m not sure if they understand.”
Two from auxiliary honored
American Legion Ladies Auxiliary members Dorothy Nelson and Pearl Hummel will serve as honorary grand marshals in the parade. They have helped with the auxiliary’s fundraisers such as garage sales and bake sales.
“Dorothy and Pearl are always there to help — all we have to do is ask,” Goodyear said. “This was our way of saying ‘thank you’ for all that they do — and it’s not near enough.”