SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — A Sioux Falls Vietnam War veteran became the first person to be buried at the new state veterans cemetery.
77-year-old Paul Larson died of melanoma in early March of 2020. The pandemic created uncertainty over when, and where he would be buried. But that uncertainty ended Friday as his family, friends and fellow veterans gathered at the cemetery to say their final goodbyes.
The solemn procession made its way through Sioux Falls to its destination at the state veterans cemetery.
“The line of people to come here looked like a mile long driving down Cliff Avenue. Everyone pulled over, lights were on, it just felt like a great honor for my dad,” daughter Liz Larson said.
Paul Larson’s journey to the cemetery hilltop was a long and winding one. He died more than a year ago, when the pandemic was just beginning and the veterans cemetery was far from complete.
“He was worried that he wasn’t going to make it. But luckily, we told the Heritage Funeral Home that it was very important to him and they agreed to keep him for the whole time, during COVID, especially,” daughter Stephanie Larson said.
Larson served as an intelligence officer during the Vietnam War. Bud Malone came all the way from Albany, New York to attend the burial service for his army buddy.
“We were within range of North Vietnamese artillery, so we frequently had to dive into a trench behind our plywood and sheet metal hooch. We bonded in a way that only those who are at war can bond,” Malone said.
Larson was an avid outdoorsman and his family says this rustic setting on the northeast edge of Sioux Falls is a fitting location for his final resting place.
“A friend of my dad’s and I were joking up there, he’s probably got his little deer stand sitting out here in the woods. It’s really appropriate and it’s great for us when we come and visit him because he really loved nature,” Liz Larson said.
The soft notes of Taps echoed through the valley; a somber signal to all others who will follow Larson up the hilltop.
“It’s kind of appropriate that he’s there to kind of be the guardsman to the rest of the folks who end up here over the coming years,” Liz Larson said.
Larson’s burial comes just four days after the Memorial Day ribbon cutting at the cemetery.
The cemetery director says a total of three burials were scheduled for Friday.