Newton resident Mike Larson served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, but said his experience from the beginning differed from the accounts of many other veterans.
"I joined the Navy twice," Larson recalled.
Growing up in Minnesota, Larson found he could not afford the second year of college, so he went back home to work alongside his father on the family's farm. In 1966, he went to see a recruiter in Alexandria, Minnesota, and joined the Navy on a 120-day delay program.
"My mother was very adamant that I didn't go Army," Larson said.
He ended up not going anywhere — not even to boot camp.
"I got into a game of touch football and tore up my knee," Larson said.
Larson received an honorable discharge and returned to work, but he was determined to try again. He took the physical for the draft three times.
"The third time, they sent me to a specialist and he passed me," Larson said.
Finally, in 1968, Larson was sent to San Diego for basic training.
"My boot company were all from Minnesota, the Dakotas and Iowa," Larson said. "...We all worked hard and were responsible for everything."
Graduating from boot camp two days before Thanksgiving, Larson flew back home, landing in Minneapolis. Still in uniform, he immediately received offers of rides to hitchhike the 150 miles home from the airport.
"Nobody ever said anything derogatory," Larson said.
Learning to be an aviation electronics technician, Larson spent most of his Navy career in Corpus Christi, Texas. It was there that he worked on F-9s — aircraft that were 25 years old at that time — then transitioned to brand new A-4s.
"Basically, all I did was check equipment and change out black boxes," Larson said.
He worked a 12-hour shift from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. — or until whenever his tasks were completed.
"We had a good shop. I had a good experience while I was there," Larson said.
Larson was also chosen to be in the Flying Rifles drill team and participated in honor guards and parades.
"We had a blast and girls just fell all over us," Larson said.
His only experience on board a ship came when he boarded an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Mexico.
"A big hurricane was coming up, so they flew us all off the next day," Larson said. "I was fortunate — or unfortunate, I don't know which — that I never had to spend time aboard a ship."
There was still plenty of adventure to be found on land — or in the skies.
"I had a backseat card where I could fly with an instructor," Larson said. "Sometimes, (a problem) would show up in the air but we never could find it while we were sitting on the ground."
His most memorable flights were with a Marine captain who piloted planes.
"He didn't like flying by himself. He flew during the day, most of the time, so he'd call me up and ask me if I wanted to go for a ride," Larson said.
Before his first flight, Larson was warned not to tell the captain if he didn't feel well — advice he strategically ignored.
"I knew were headed for home, so I said, 'Captain, I don't feel very good.' He called off and let the other guys go and we went for barrel rolls," Larson said. "He leveled off and said, 'how do you feel now?' I said, 'great, let's do it again!'"
Larson soon learned that he found formation flights boring, but there were other rides that provided a rush of adrenaline.
"We flew upside down over Padre Island at 100 feet, waving at all of the people on the beach," Larson said.
While in Texas, Larson learned he preferred tornadoes to hurricanes after Hurricane Celia swept through in 1970, causing major damage to the naval air base in Corpus Christi.
"The damage was worse than if a tornado had hit; everything was soaking wet," Larson said.
Being in the military taught Larson several important life lessons, including accepting whatever came his way.
"I'm not so fussy on a lot of things. ...You find out that life's not fair, but you live with it," Larson said. "....If you work hard and do the things you're supposed to do, you'll get rewarded for it."
After three and a half years in the navy, Petty Officer 3rd Class Larson was given a hardship discharge. His father, still working on the farm, had a heart attack and needed his son's assistance.
A few years later, a sales job brought Larson to Kansas, where he then switched careers. Working in construction and carpentry, he was able to get out from the front seat of a car and stay active.
"I still walk 10,000 steps a day, swim three times a week and go and lift weights three times a week," Larson said.
Larson's oldest son, who is also a Navy veteran, recently encouraged him to apply for a Kansas Honor Flight.
"He gave me an application, so I filled it out," Larson said. "...All of a sudden, out of the blue, I get a call that said, 'you've been chosen to go on an Honor Flight.' I said, 'wow, thank you!'"
Larson has been to Washington D.C. twice before, but he said he wants to look up more names on the wall of the Vietnam Memorial.
"I had a number of friends — kids I graduated with — who went over there," Larson said. "...I want to see it all again."