.‘Spear’ Parts

Arts-2-Ed-LarsenSanta Cruz nonagenarian Ed Larson illuminates lesser-known history of World War II in autobiography

Before his 21st birthday, Santa Cruz artist and author Ed Larson had already co-piloted five round-trip missions “across the hump” of the Himalayas, from India to China, at the controls of supply-laden B-24s en route to soldiers fighting the Japanese. It was January 1943, and he was in the thick of World War II’s lesser-known China-Burma-India Theater of Operations

The now 91-year-old Larson finally yielded to friends’ urgings and penned his autobiography, Spear-Carrier in a Backwater War. He explains the title: “In opera, a ‘spear-carrier’ is a stand-in. ‘Backwater’ refers to the World War II China Theater of Operations. This slice of the war—Japan vs. China—was kind of an afterthought when contrasted with the European and South Pacific fronts.”

Relying on his keen memory, as well as some 350 saved letters he’d sent home from Asia, the tome is chockablock with photos and Larson’s original drawings, and details some of his white-knuckle wartime experiences—including mid-flight oxygen deprivation, engine “idiosyncrasies,” hazardous cargo and wicked storms. A community television feature based on the book is currently in discussion, and Larson has taken his story to interested local groups and high schoolers, many of whom had never heard of this aspect of World War II.

secure document shredding

Spear-Carrier is Larson’s fourth book. “Writing is like building a house, and the words are the nails that stick it all together,” Larson says of his love for the art form.

After being discharged from the Army Air Corps in 1946, Lt. Larson was a veteran not yet of legal voting or drinking age. Returning to civilian life was more difficult than he anticipated: he moved back to Seattle, his 1924 birthplace, and re-enrolled at the University of Washington, but flunked out, ending up in different jobs from Hawaii to Alaska, with “the wheels coming off my life,” as he describes it.

Meeting his lifetime love, Marilyn, turned things around. A few years after welcoming their daughter in 1951, Larson went after his B.A. and teaching credential. He was immediately hired to teach junior high art. By 1963, he was promoted to district administration and retired in 1983.

Larson never thought he’d end up in Santa Cruz. When he’d first visited on his honeymoon, the weather was wet and gray, and he took an instant dislike to the place: “The ocean was no stranger to me, and I loved it—just not there,” he says.

Yet, after several summers spent in Seabright, at his wife’s family home, Larson’s reaction evolved: “There’s an ambiance of tradition, culture—a soul of living—that permeates the place,” he says.

Upon Larson’s retirement, the couple bought a 90-year-old home in Seabright, where Larson set up his studio in the back, free to write and paint as his heart desires. He’s tended more toward commercial art, working in acrylics because they’re “fast, permanent, flexible, archival,” he says. Some of his art is on public view at the Santa Cruz Harbor, where he has created much of the informational signage. With the encouragement of then-Port Director Brian Foss (“the soul of the Harbor,” Larson says), he created a curriculum encompassing the history of the Harbor and the Monterey Bay, even researching the path of the early Manila galleons that sailed local waters.

Fulfilling a personal goal, Larson received his captain’s license from the intensive Coast Guard program in his 80s. He finds comfort around the docks, and especially identifies with fishermen, knowing “how their boats smell and their engines work.”

“Ed is a staple in his community, a presence whose house and phone are always available to his friends,” says neighbor Bill Murchison, retired superintendent of the Rio Linda School District in Sacramento. “Ed listens to people and encourages them with really thoughtful, solid advice, part of his great magnitude and capacity for care.”

Losing his wife in 2012 was devastating, but the Seabright community and his “unusually cohesive” family—including his daughter, two granddaughters, and five great-grands—are his mainstays. Then there’s Fiona, his Yorkie: The twosome are regular amblers on Seabright’s avenues.

Growing up in the Depression era, surviving war, love and loss, Larson’s no stranger to hardship, yet he has a way of seeing the best in everything. At his age, he says, he’s not “trying to cram things in before the lid goes on. I think of life as a corridor that one walks through; it’s narrow so you bump the sides from time to time.”


MEMOIRS OF A VETERAN Growing up in the Depression era, surviving war, love and loss, local author Ed Larson writes autobiography about his time in World War II’s lesser-known operations. PHOTO: KEANA PARKER

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