Jess Larson ʼ22 lived his life in service to his country and fellow citizens. An accomplished attorney, he served as mayor of Chickasha, Oklahoma, and rose to the rank of major general in the U.S. Air Force, also filling roles by presidential appointment as administrator of the War Assets Administration and the General Services Administration.
While a student at Missouri Military Academy, Larson enlisted in the Oklahoma National Guard at the age of 16. After graduating from MMA in 1922, he enrolled at the University of Oklahoma and in 1923 was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Oklahoma National Guard. He went on to attend the University of Oklahoma Law School as well.
Two years after completing law school, Larson was twice elected mayor of his hometown — Chickasha, Oklahoma. In this role, he acted as the chief executive officer of the city, presiding over sessions of the city council, and served as municipal court judge. The young mayor continued to study law in a Chickasha law office.
In 1934, hampered by the Great Depression, Larson moved to Oklahoma City, where he was admitted to the Oklahoma bar and opened a private law practice. Shortly after, he became secretary to the commissioners of the Oklahoma State Land Office.
Called to active duty in the National Guard in 1940, Larson mobilized to North Africa as a battalion commander of the 160th Field Artillery Battalion in the 45th Division for the Italian campaign. His combat duty ended in 1943 when he was wounded near Cassino, Italy. For his valor in combat, he received the Legion of Merit and Purple Heart medals.
Once his convalescence ended, Larson was back on duty, assigned to the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as an instructor. Promoted to colonel, he eventually became head of the tactics department at Fort Sill.
His service continued after the war’s end with an active-duty assignment at the Pentagon on the War Department general staff. In 1947, President Harry Truman appointed Larson general counsel of the War Assets Administration, which was responsible for disposing the huge surplus of military property after the war.
“I had never met the president, although I had seen him on one occasion some years before that. When I was ushered into President Truman’s presence, he had what appeared to be a dossier of my career before him, and referring to that, he greeted me very warmly as a fellow artilleryman,” Larson recalled in a 1967 interview with Truman Library. “We discussed artillery and some of my experiences as a commander of a direct support field artillery battalion before I was wounded in Italy. We also discussed the Field Artillery School, and I was amazed to find that he was quite alert to everything that was going on, even down to the latest technical details of field artillery.”
The stroll down Memory Lane complete, Truman abruptly changed the subject and told Larson, “I have a job for you to do and I want you to get on with it.”
Recognizing his outstanding work, Truman nominated Larson to head the Federal Works Agency in 1949. A month later, the president appointed Larson as the first administrator of the brand-new General Services Administration (GSA). After four years serving the GSA, Larson decided to return to his legal roots and practiced law in Washington, D.C.
In the Army Reserve since Truman’s appointment in 1947, Larson transferred to the Air Force Reserve in 1956 and completed several interesting tours of duty. He retired from military service in 1966 as a major general in the Air Force.
In addition to his professional work, Larson served as president and chairman of the Air Force Association and was a member of the Oklahoma Aviation Hall of Fame, the Metropolitan Club, the Army and Navy Club, and the National Democratic Club. For his service, the Air Force conferred upon him its Exceptional Civilian Service Award.
Larson passed away February 25, 1987, at George Washington University Hospital.
Missouri Military Academy is proud to count Larson among our noteworthy alumni.