How Stanley Larson came home

Tom McDermott
Posted 1/25/22

Stanley “Mike” Larson was the pride of Rochelle in many ways.

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How Stanley Larson came home


Stanley “Mike” Larson was the pride of Rochelle in many ways.

Stan lettered in football three years, basketball three years, tennis four years and track one year. Conference championships, regional championships and three trips to the state tennis championships. Stanley was the 1943 Hackett Trophy winner. With 11 varsity letters, Stan was obviously a great athlete and is a member of the Rochelle Athletic Hall of Fame. Stan was also a member of the National Honor Society, Drama Club, president of the Student Council and a member of the band. In June 1943, Stan graduated from Rochelle High School.

In July 1943 ,Stanley enlisted in the Army and became a member of 394th Infantry Division. On Dec. 16, 1943, 19-year-old Stanley Larson found himself in the Ardennes Forest between the borders of Belgium and Germany. The Battle of the Bulge had begun.

At 5:30 a.m. the Germans began an artillery barrage followed by an attack led by the German 6th Panzer Army. The Allies fell back and the Germans held the area for the next month. When the Allies returned, they found that their dead had been buried and any taken prisoner were gone.

Stanley Larson was one of those missing. It was Feb. 1945 before Stanley’s status was changed to killed-in-action. His body was still not found. Stanley became just one of the more than 78,000 Allied WWII troops that were missing in action.

Flash forward to 1978 when teenagers Jean-Philippe-Speder and Jean-Luois-Seel were souvenir hunting in the Ardennes Forest. The two lived nearby and the Ardennes always had treasures to give up to those willing to search closely.

Six years later, the boys found their first body, a German soldier with a hole in its skull. In 1988, they found their first American soldier. This second find led the boys to form a club of like-minded searchers. The “Diggers” would meet as often as they could, armed with metal detectors, shovels and maps, the group searched areas of the Ardennes for lost soldiers.

Searching near Hunningen, Belgium near the border with Germany, in March 2001, the Diggers discovered remains. Once they had ascertained that the find was actually human remains, the Diggers notified the German government.

Exhumation is a delicate process, protection of the evidence is essential for the identification of the remains. Every soldier found, German, American or other is treated with dignity and respect. Today Germany and the United States work cooperatively.

The German Army exhumed the bodies and found the remains of three American soldiers. The remains and artifacts from the site were packaged and shipped to the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory at Hickman Airforce Base, Hawaii. The experts at the laboratory did what they do best and using artifacts, dental records and DNA, they identified the remains of the three soldiers. Sgt. Frederick Zimmerman, PFC Erwin Fiddler and PFC Stanley Larson had been found.

The families of the deceased now had a choice. The remains could be buried in Belgium, they could be interred at Arlington National Cemetery or they could be returned to the family. For the Larson family, the choice was already made.

In 1947, Elmer and Ella Larson, Stanley’s parents, had purchased a plot and placed a marker honoring Stanley at Lawnridge Cemetery, Rochelle. On July 22, 2002, Rochelle’s Stanley Larson was laid to rest. More than 50 years after he had gone to war, his battle was over. His family finally knew the fate of their son, he was home.

Tom McDermott is a Flagg Township Museum historian and Rochelle city councilman.