Decorated veteran loses cancer battle at 90

Bill Larson, a tireless campaigner for the Legion's Poppy Fund, "embodied" the Legion's values.

Bill Larson was a veteran of the Second World War and Korean War.

Bill Larson, a celebrated local veteran and tireless campaigner for the Legion’s Poppy Fund, has passed away.

Friends and family gathered on Saturday, Nov. 3 for his memorial service.

Larson, who served in both the Second World War and the Korean War, came to symbolize the sacrifice of Canadian veterans when his image was immortalized in a mural painted next to the Surrey Cenotaph in 2005.

“Lest We Forget” was painted by Sullivan Heights and North Surrey Secondary students to commemorate land, sea and air battles of the Second World War.

Larson is pictured seated in a wheelchair, flanked by two young cadets holding a wreath and a Canadian flag, against a large red maple leaf backdrop.

Larson passed away Oct. 27 in Surrey Memorial Hospital due to complications from colon cancer. He was 90.

His military career included serving with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Korea, where his regiment was instrumental in defending Seoul and the Kapyong Valley, earning both the United States Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism in action and the Republic of Korea’s Presidential Unit Citation.

A soldier to the end, he was presented with these citations in hospital before he died.

Born in Woodnorth, Manitoba on Jan. 29, 1922, Larson enlisted in the Canadian Provost Corps., serving in England, Belgium, Germany, and France, where he was wounded.

After the war, he moved to Surrey, working for Fraser Mills. But military life called, and he soon enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, then later the Canadian Provost Corps again, and by 1950, he was part of the PPCLI.

He left the armed forces in 1959, embarking on a long civilian career with Canada Post.

Music was a great joy of his life. He played both the trumpet and saxophone, performing with a number of bands. He was also physically active: he loved baseball, and played senior slow-pitch up to age 74.

He enjoyed writing, published a memoir of his army adventures and also wrote poetry. active force in the community, Larson was also involved in a number of groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Order of Foresters, Scouts Canada, the junior Olympic training program and the RCMP Auxiliary. He also founded the Cloverdale Jazz Club.

[At far left, the mural at the Surrey Cenotaph featuring Bill Larson]

He’ll be greatly missed at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 6 in Cloverdale, where he was a long-serving and active member. He was awarded a life membership in 1985. A past-president, he was also especially dedicated to the Poppy Campaign, which raises funds through poppy sales to support veterans and their families.

During the two-week annual campaign, “He just basically went out eight to 10 hours a day,” Branch 6 president Frank Redekop recalled Tuesday. “He was out there all day, every day. He never sat down.”

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that any donations be made to the Royal Canadian Legion Poppy Fund.

Larson was a fixture at Remembrance Day services in Cloverdale, where he played the Last Post on his trumpet at numerous ceremonies.

His dedication and service represents what the Legion is all about, Redekop said.

“He just embodied the principles that the Legion stands for. He is definitely a man who will be missed,” Redekop said, praising Larson’s honesty and integrity, warmth and openness.

“He was a mentor to a lot of people,” he said. “He’s just one of those people who gave it his all, to his community and to his country.”

Along with his wife of 35 years, Esther, he’s survived by three daughters: Catherine, Billie, and Patricia, stepdaughters Shirley and Linda, and 24 grandchildren. He’s predeceased by son Richard.

Follow the Cloverdale Reporter on Twitter and Facebook. View our print edition online.