By Staff Report
Posted Mar 24, 2018 at 6:10 PM
Just as Hank Larkin finished high school in Holmes County, Miss., World War II was beginning to wain. Nevertheless, he had a burning desire to his country. So, at age 17 he talked his parents into signing for him to enlist in the US Navy.
After basic training at the United States Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Md. Larkin received order to report for duty onboard the USS Valley Forge docked at the Philadelphia Shipyard.
The USS Valley Forge was the newest aircraft carrier in the fleet. It was massive at 888-feet-long with a battery of twelve five-inch cannons, eight mounts of four 40mm guns and forty-six 20 mm anti-aircraft guns. The flight deck was 862 long by 108 wide.
The speed of the Valley Forge was kept as “Top Secret,” however it was designed to reach speed in excess of 33 knots or about 38 mph.
With two flight decks, 36 fighter aircraft, 36 dive bombers, 18 torpedo bombers along with a complement of 268 officers and 2,363 men the Valley Forge was the pride of the Navy.
President Truman ordered the Valley Forge to make a worldwide cruise as a show of force to all nations.
Larkin was an electrician and his battle station was in the gyro compartment below deck in the forward part of the ship. Alone, Larkin would be in charge of the gyro which kept the ship stabilized. It was also a prime target for an enemy torpedo.
According to Larkin, he got a free worldwide cruise before he was 21-years-old.
The Valley Forge sailed from Philadelphia to Cuba, then through the Panama Canal to join the Atlantic Fleet Headquarters in San Diego. From there the Valley Forge sailed to Pearl Harbor where they received intensive air and gunnery training before moving onward to Sydney, Australia.
The Valley Forge continued its worldwide cruise and Larkin got to visit places that he had only read about in geography books – Hong Kong, Singapore, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Saudi Arabia, the Suez Canal and many ports in the Mediterranean.
After a call in Gibraltar the ship set sail for Norway. The Valley Forge’s trip through the treacherous fjords with snow squalls reducing the visibility to less than 100-feet was a great adventure leading to their arrival in Bergen.
From Bergen the Valley Forge sailed to England where Larkin and his fellow crewmates had a 72-hour liberty pass.
Larkin had already crossed the equator several times, sailed across the Pacific and now they were headed for New York via the Atlantic Ocean.
Underway from New York the Valley Forge sailed for the second time through the Panama Canal and back to San Diego.
On the return trip, history was made again when a squadron of the Navy’s newest fighter jets landed on the flight deck. Larkin was on duty at the time and witnessed the event.
After he got out of the Navy, Larkin became the mill manager at Merryville. It was not too long before he realized this job was not fulfilling his desire to serve his fellow man as he had once done in the Navy.
He volunteered by offering himself as a state trooper where he took a decrease in pay. Larkin has always taken the time to help the youth in the parish.
He and Dr. Charles A. Jones helped organize the first Explorer Scout Civil Air Patrol. Larkin also taught gun safety and, along with Jones, formed the first NRA Rifle team.
As a private pilot he served on the advisory board for the airport.
Another duty that Larkin enjoyed was helping the DeRidder High School Band travel to events out of town and sometimes out of state.
Often, he and band director Grady Kyle would plan out the route in advance and Larkin would escort the band in his cruiser.
For over 29 years Larkin served the people of Louisiana and especially Beauregard Parish.
In his long career as a Louisiana State Trooper he served under five governors before retiring.
Again, the need to serve was still with Larkin. He offered his services to Sheriff Bolivar Bishop who was happy to have Larkin as a deputy. He served as a deputy for ten years.
If he was able, Larkin would still be serving today.
Even though he is 90-years-old, this World War II veteran misses working and helping the people of Beauregard Parish.
Larkin and his wife Crystal attend Grace Church. He still enjoys making “coffee call” with his friends and fellow veterans most mornings.
He is a member of American Legion Post 27.