A Veteran's Story
Nov 09, 2015 11:09AM
Nestled in a white Red Cross envelope in a drawer in Dr. Erik Larsen’s home is a 65-year- old-watch, whose hands are frozen forever in time. The watch reads 2:55 p.m. – the exact moment when Larsen’s jeep hit a mine during the May Massacre in Chaun-ni, South Korea. It was May 18, 1951. Larsen was 29 years old, having been drafted as a Medical Officer. Dr. Larsen was married, had a child, and was in general practice on the north side of Chicago when he entered the military. He was given combat and medical training at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and then was sent to Korea. “I ultimately ended up in the front lines as a Battalion Surgeon, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Regimental Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division,” says Larsen. “In May 1951, I was assigned to Task Force Zebra, which was comprised of part of the 23rd Regimental Combat Team plus additional special units. We moved to the eastern sector of the 38th parallel to a town called Chaun-ni in early May.” “On May 17, the big push started in our sector. All day and all night, we worked taking care of the wounded. This included completion of amputations, and resuscitation procedures,” remembers Larsen. “We were ordered to stay and fight until relief could finally get to us.” But eventually his task force was completely surrounded by thousands of Chinese soldiers, and he was ordered to withdraw with a convoy of jeeps, trucks, and tanks. “Chinese infantrymen were alongside the road on the right side embankment firing at us with burp guns, machine guns, and rifles,” says Larsen. “The lead tank hit a mine about a quarter-mile down the road and was pushed aside by the other tanks so as not to block the road. We continued on. About a half-mile down the road, the lead tank and our jeep hit mines. In the confusion, dust, smoke and noise, I stumbled out of what remained of the jeep and hid in a crater on the right-hand side under a hill swarming with Chinese.” What Larsen witnessed during the May Massacre is beyond comprehension. He saw his entire medical team killed or captured. He drifted in and out of consciousness, and when he came to in the trench, he knew he would have to flee. Larsen, along with two other soldiers who had been hiding in the trench, agreed to separate. They ran across the road, under machine gun fire, and rolled down an embankment to the nearby river. “The shooting continued, so I ran, waded, crawled, and swam across the river, which was at its spring high,” says Larsen. “Bullets were hitting the water all around me. My adrenalin must have kicked in. All I know is that I kept going... I fell ... I crawled ... I got up ... I crawled ... I fell ... I rolled ... I got up. Luckily, I was not hit, except on my helmet. I staggered across rice paddies filled with spring rains and eventually collapsed on the far side of the valley.” Larsen was later picked up by a Sherman tank that took him back to his American troops, where he recovered and returned to his unit. “But everyone in my unit had been replaced,” says Larsen, shaking his head. “They were all killed or captured.” Several weeks after returning to his unit, Larsen was fortunate to be reassigned to a M.A.S. H. (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit, where he served as a surgeon at the front lines. Larsen was awarded a Combat Medical Badge and a Purple Heart for his service. In 2000, he returned to South Korea to pay homage to those of his unit who were lost during that dark day in May, 50 years earlier. “It was a long and hard trip, going back there,” says Larsen. “But it was more rewarding than I can possibly describe. I got to see what we were fighting for, and today feel very proud to have served in Korea, in ‘The Forgotten War.’”
Dr. Erik Larsen and his wife Lynda live on Amelia Island.