Emery Ellsworth “Swede” Larson – Colonel, United States Marine Corps

Rites for Former Naval Football Coach in Arlington Cemetery

WASHINGTON, November 13, 1945 – Colonel Emery Ellsworth (Swede) Larson, former head football coach at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, was buried today with fully military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.  Colonel Larson died last Wednesday at the age of 46.

Captain Robert D. Workman, Navy Chaplain, said at a service in the little chapel in Fort Myer that the memory of the popular athletics leader and marine officer long would be an inspiration to those who shape this country’s future.

3 December 2000

History reserved an extraordinary niche for Emery “Swede” Larson, who enlisted in the Marines, graduated from the Naval Academy, but remained loyal to the cause of the corps … on the battlefield and football field. Semper Fi.

He was the only Marine to both play and coach at Navy. And he came away a winner every time. Six-for-6 in games won against Army. Turn the pages of the dusty history books. No coach in more than a century of Naval Academy football ever achieved such success.

Larson had been an enlisted man who received an appointment to the Naval Academy because of his academic and athletic achievements. Every graduate who came out of the academy, via the Marine Corps, holds him in special regard. Larson made it on his own.

Eight days after the Japanese tried to eradicate Pearl Harbor, he coached his last game. Football, fun and frivolity were shelved.

In the Navy locker room in Philadelphia, with only a few brief words, he put the outbreak of World War II in personal focus when he said, “This will be the last football game for me for a while. There’s a bigger game coming up and I’m going to be in it.”

Then it was off to the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and preparation for a life-or-death scrimmage in war zones that could only be measured by the sacrifices he witnessed, the valor and resolve displayed by the men he was leading.

The following is a brief but powerful letter, giving insight to the man himself, that he wrote aboard ship while heading for invasion action:

At Sea

Dear Sons:

On leaving home to join the Marines in 1917, Dad gave me the following written advice, which I have always carried with me. I pass it on to you as the best guide possible for your conduct and approach to a full life.

Be cheerful. Be patient. Obey. Be a man. Trust in God and talk often .

A message of hope, kind of the prayer of a father intent on seeing that his sons followed the straight and narrow and, when called upon for a decision, would make all the right ones. Larson never let down his team, his family or his country.

The Marines didn’t pick any soft landing spots for Larson. He went to the Aleutian Islands to establish a defensive deterrent. It was, in the language of football, known as protecting the flanks.

Then it was on to other campaigns … those dots in the jungle known as Tarawa, Kwajalein and the Marshall Islands. Far different venues than leading Navy against Army. In his football career, he had taken one of the poorest of academy teams and given it instant respectability. Navy came out of its slumber under Larson.

He was first a Marine, then a football coach. “It was kind of understood my father was going to be the Navy coach,” says a son, Emery Jr. “Football was an adjunct to his regular duties at Annapolis, where he was in charge of the Marine Corps Special Service Branch, arranging parades and stationing the Marine guards.

“We lived inside Gate 7, and it was a great experience being a boy and knowing Dick Duden, Vito Vitucci, Al Camerson and Gene Flathmann. I watched a lot of practices and enjoyed knowing the assistant coaches: Rip Miller, Keith Molesworth and Oscar Hagberg.”

Young Larson went to Annapolis High, then to Lawrenceville Prep and then to Yale, where he played four years of varsity football during seasons interrupted by World War II. He was serving aboard the USS Idaho when he was given the news his father had had a heart attack at the Atlanta Naval Hospital that became fatal. “Swede” was only 47 and about to be promoted to general.

In his service career, from a raw recruit, the elder Larson mixed football and the military. For two years, he was involved in the Nicaraguan campaign, then was with the Sixth Marines in Shanghai as bullets and bombs flew overhead.

Underneath the canopy of fire, the Marines persisted in playing a football game. Larson had coached the team from the USS Pennsylvania to fleet marine titles in 1935-36, and the Naval Academy wisely realized he was an untapped talent who had never been far away from the game. He was transferred to Annapolis to await another assignment.

It wasn’t going to be a joy ride, but Larson responded with surprising results. Navy became a Top 10 team, ready to dominate the Ivy League and give Army three straight beatings from 1939 to 1941. Six successive times Army fell, going back to when Larson played for the academy from 1919 to 1921. When his son was asked to describe his father, man and coach, he replied: “He had a great, commanding presence and an uncanny ability to lead. When he concluded his days at Annapolis, the alumni gave him a blanket with a large ‘N’ and six stars denoting the six times he had beaten Army as a player and coach. That never happened before or since.”

Larson is buried only 100 yards from John F. Kennedy at Arlington National  Cemetery. Let his epitaph be written: He never lost to Army.


  • DATE OF DEATH: 11/07/1945

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