By James Lomuscio
Longtime Westporter Larry Aasen said he was surprised when he got the call many veterans would consider the ultimate honor — being asked to be grand marshal in this year’s Memorial Day Parade.
“At 95, it’s quite a surprise,” said Aasen, a former World War II Army sergeant who served in France with the glider division of the 13th Airborne.
“Bill Vornkahl (chairman of the Memorial Day Parade) called me last Friday, and he said, ‘We want you to be grand marshal.’
“I said yes immediately,” he added.
Aasen, who worked as a cryptographer, devising and deciphering codes during the war, loves a good parade.
But in a less jubilant moment he reflected on the hell of war. His thoughts drifted to his friend Harry. He couldn’t recall his last name.
“We were in Orleans, France, and our group was close,” he recalled. “We all lived together; Harry and I slept side by side in the tent. One night he got up to go to the latrine, and he veered off the path, and the Germans had planted mines all over the place. One went off and he was killed.
“The next day the captain had to write a letter to his mother, and the captain was crying like a baby,” Aasen added. “That day I realized what war was all about. It’s not all parades.”
Aasen served from 1943 to 1946, and despite the war’s everyday dangers, which he called “a series of bad events,” he said he said he came to appreciate his country more. A lot had to do with meeting individuals from throughout the United States.
“I realized we were a pretty big country with a lot of different people,” said Aasen, who grew up on a small farm in Hillsboro, North Dakota, a tiny hamlet with two one-room schoolhouses and located between Fargo and Grand Forks.
After the war, Aasen received a degree in journalism from the University of North Dakota in 1947. Two years later, he earned a master’s degree in public relations from Boston University.
He soon turned his attention to writing for national magazines: Hunting and Fishing, the Journal of Accountancy and Fleet Owner, a McGraw Hill magazine.
At Fleet Owner, he met Martha Ann McMullan from Newton, Mississippi. They were married in 1953, and they raised two children David and Susan in Westport were they moved in 1963.
“We’ve lived in the same house for 53 years,” he says about his and Martha’s Ellery Lane home.
From 1954 to 1971, Aasen worked in public relations for New York Life, serving eight of those years in San Francisco as the insurance giant’s public relations director. He also worked for 20 years as the CEO of the New York City-based Better Vision Institute.
Ever the writer, Aasen has written three books on North Dakota and even a children’s book titled, “my Friend the Pig.”
He has also found time to be active locally, having served on served on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) for 17 years, and as a member of the Westport Saugatuck Congregational Church, Westport Y’s Men and Westport Rotary.
Martha, too, has been involved locally and is a former head of the Democratic Town Committee.
Yes, it’s not all about parades, he said, when he talked about the war.
But a parade in his hometown, he says, is a great way to remember all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, a great way to remember Harry.