From the Issaquah Mines to France: Al Larson’s Service

By Doug Bristol, Mine Hike Leader

All the really interesting stories about Issaquah’s coal mining days involve the people living in the town during that era, and how their lives were interwoven into the fabric of the community. One of these people was Carl “Al” Albert Larson. Al was born in Spink Co. South Dakota on June 29, 1886 to Charles and Severina Larson. He grew up to be a handsome young man with brown hair and blue eyes.

The family moved to Issaquah in 1908, when Al was 22 years old. His father was a mining carpenter, and taught his son the carpentry trade. Father and son worked for all of the mines in the Issaquah area, and also did standard house carpentry. The family lived on Hill St. in a house Charles and Al built themselves. The family settled into a quiet life of work, church, friends, and community with the usual parades, dances, picnics and potlucks. Issaquah was a good place to live and work. Sadly, however, Al’s mother Severina passed away on March 10, 1913.

In 1915, Al married Leona Smithey, of Seattle, and they settled into a home in Issaquah on Third Avenue in a house that Al had built for them. But happiness was not to be. Leona died unexpectedly just 2 weeks after their marriage. So life, both happy and sad, continued on for the Larsons, as it did for many families in Issaquah and throughout the country.

In spite of the simple life of Issaquah, tensions were growing in the world outside. When Crown Prince Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie were assassinated on July 28, 1914, the world flashboiled into World War 1. This had a profound effect on Issaquah, as one of the largest mines in town was owned by a German, and was shut down. Al was out of work, along with many others, and carpentry work of any kind was scarce. Nobody had any money and many families left town. Still, Al and his father managed enough work to remain living in town.

When the United States entered WWI on April 6, 1917, a draft was begun to fill the ranks of the Army. Al registered for the draft on February 26, 1918 and entered the Army on April 6. After training, Carl Albert Larson Private First Class. went aboard the U.S. Military Transport vessel Scotian on July 6, 1918, and sailed to war in Europe far from the peaceful streets and fields of Issaquah.

Arriving in France, Al was assigned to Company I, 91st Infantry division, 361 st Infantry Regiment, and was sent to the Argonne Forest 100 miles north of Paris. He and 2.5 million other men were shortly involved in the horrible trench warfare of that infamous place. Every day at an early hour, the men would be ordered “over the top” of the trench to face the machine guns of the Germans. With the loss of so many men, promotion came quickly, and Al shortly found himself promoted to Corporal.

On October 8, 1918, Al received a package from his father in Issaquah. It contained local newspapers, candy, coffee, letters from home, and tobacco. Al shared it with his sargent Bartel L. Nelson of Douglas Wyoming, commenting that the candy “sure was awful good”. Nelson had noticed that Al had not been himself for the last few days, and that the letters and other items from home really seemed to cheer him up. But the next days battle loomed large in all the men’s minds, and Al asked his friend Claude L. McDermott, “Do you think we’ll have to go into it again tomorrow?” Claude replied that he “didn’t see any way they wouldn’t. “

At 8:00 AM on October 9, 1918, the order was given. The men charged forward into the blazing machine gun fire of the enemy. Many a young man met his maker that terrible day. Al was running out in an open space, and was struck in the head by a bullet and killed instantly. His sargent called to him three times to continue the advance, but Al remained on the ground. Going over to him, Sargent Nelson found him dead.

So Al never made it back to the peaceful town from which he had sailed just months before. Never got a chance to marry again. Never got a chance to perform his carpentry craft. There were no more dances or potlucks for him. Life went on in Issaquah, but Carl Albert Larson was not there to partake. He died at 8:15 AM on October 9, 1918. His father Charles died just 3 days later on October 12th. Neither father nor son lived long enough to know that the other had died. Charles and Severina are buried in Hillside Cemetery in Issaquah. Al is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France, 5,000 miles away. WW1 ended just 32 days after Al died. He almost made it home.

Issaquah’s Veteran’ of Foreign Wars Post 3436 was named after Albert Carl Larson.