Tragedy upon Tragedy

Larsen killed in action in July, family notified eight months later; Final resting place still unknown

Photo provided to the Times Observer Larsen’s name on the Tablets of the Missing at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Northern France.

Marshall Larsen was killed at the Battle of Soissons in the summer of 1918.

As the calendar turned to 1919, his family had no idea what had happened to him.

Letters stopped coming but Larsen had cautioned his family there may be times when letters would be few and far between.

The family hoped that he may have been captured or wounded and unable to identify himself.

Those hopes, a longshot at best, were dented on January 16, 1918 when Larsen’s parents were informed by the Red Cross – not the War Department – that Marshall had been killed.

The official news didn’t reach the family until the following April, nearly 10 months since Marshall was killed.

“To have their son killed in action July 18, 1918 and be officially notified by the War Department April 1, 1919, is the experience of Mr. and Mrs. John Larson of Clarendon,” the Evening Times reported.

After reiterating his service and where he was believed to have been killed, the paper said that “the War Department did not send that much information in the message received Tuesday (by the family).”

“Numberless letters have been written by the parents and brother in an endeavor to learn something about the boy that their worst fears were realized when the Red Cross sent the information the first of the year that he had been killed in action, which news is not verified by the belated information from the government.”

He first shows up on a casualty list in February, 1919.

Order number 2754-H from General Pershing indicates that “Private Marshall Larsen 1,848,143, Second Company, Camp Lee March Replacement Draft is reported by Red Cross have been killed in action report present status.”

Regarding military decorations and citations, Larsen was cited in General Order 1, 1st Division, dated January 1, 1920.

It’s been 100 years since Larsen was killed in the fields of France.

He remains missing in action.

The “List of members of the AEF of missing status” published after the war indicates he was MIA.

Several possibilities exist for where Larsen lies today.

He could be interred at a cemetery managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

His name is currently listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, located just 45 minutes from Soissons where he was killed.

Roughly 250 of the 2,300 of the burials at that American Cemetery remain unknown.

It’s also possible that he remains interred where he fell in and around Soissons.

A 2006 Washington Post article tells the story of Francia Lupo, a soldier also killed in the area of Soissons.

“Discovered by chance, unearthed in 2003 by archaeologists looking for ancient remains, Pvt. Francis Lupo of Cincinnati has returned from the front at last, nearly 90 years after boarding a troop ship for France.

“His battalion was pushing through wheat fields in northern France under German artillery and machine-gun fire that summer Saturday when Lupo was killed. Hastily buried in a shell crater, he was left behind with the rest of the dead as the battalion kept up its advance.

“The grave, a few feet deep, one of many in those fields, was meant to be temporary. But war is chaotic and infinitely cruel. What happened to Lupo in combat, what became of his body, was never officially recorded. Maybe the soldiers who buried him were killed an hour later. Or the next morning. A lot of battlefield graves were lost that way in the carnage. No one will ever know.”

“The fields around Soissons stayed mostly farmland through the decades, with industrial buildings here and there. Because ancient remains have been found in the region, the law requires an archaeological survey before new construction takes place.”

His remains were taken to the Defense Department’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii, where they were eventually identified.

It is possible that Larsen’s remains are with the agency as well, waiting with the slim hope something new will shake loose to provide a positive identification.

It’s also possible – or at least can’t be ruled out – that there weren’t a sufficient amount of remains to be gathered after the incident that took Larsen’s life.

A current World War I Centennial Commission – updated to reflect soldiers found and identified in the last century since the war – lists 4,422 individuals who remain missing.

Larsen is on the list.

While we don’t know where Larsen ultimately lies in rest, he is memorialized in a few different places.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 314 in Clarendon was named after Larsen.

Larsen’s parents – John and Katherine – are buried at Oakland Cemetery and Marshall is also memorialized on that stone as a cenotaph, a stone erected in honor or memory of someone whose remains are located elsewhere.

He is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Northern France, located about 45 miles from the town where Larsen was killed.


A brief afterword…

It’s been 100 years since Marshall Larsen was killed in services to his country during World War I.

There’s a roughly one-in-4,000 chance he’s the unknown buried at Arlington Cemetery.

The bottom line is this – we’re likely never going to know what happened to Larsen or where he is buried.

And while there isn’t anything particularly remarkable about Larsen, his story serves as a heart-breaking reminder of what sacrifices are at times required in the name of freedom.

As with many of these stories, my research started while I was running hills in Oakland Cemetery and found the stone in his memory.

The history of our town is at Oakland and, if you don’t believe me, I would challenge you to go see for yourself.

I want to thank Kevin Charles, whose great grandmother was Larsen’s cousin, for sharing all of his information with me and that I relief heavily on in preparation of this series. It’s nice when a shot-in-the-dark email pans out like it did here.

I’d also like to thank Mark Nickerson for his assistance in my research.