WWII veteran remembered

Life of Laurel Phipps celebrated last week, friend talks about veteran’s life

After a life spent serving in the military, working for local industry and advocating for veterans, Marshalltown resident and World War II Navy veteran Laurel Phipps died at the age of 97 on July 28.

Phipps was known as an active member of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars organization and had previously been the state commander for the group. One close friend, Marshalltown resident and Vietnam War Navy veteran Larry Larson, had many fond memories of his friend and mentor.

“Laurel was like a dog with a bone — he’d get ahold of something and he just wouldn’t let go until he got things solved, or there had to be a reason why he didn’t get his way,” Larson said. “If you were his friend, you were his friend forever.”

Phipps joined the U.S. Navy in 1944 during the height of the fighting against the Japanese Empire in the Pacific Theater of WWII. He was a gunner’s mate on the U.S.S. Flint and recalled witnessing kamikaze suicide attacks on the U.S.S. Ticonderoga during an interview with the T-R in late 2016.

Phipps was also involved in the Battle of Iwo Jima during the war. During his time in the service, he accrued over 20 medals, including a Silver Star and Purple Heart.

After leaving the service in 1946, Phipps said he struggled to return to civilian life. He passed flight training school, but got in trouble for doing dangerous maneuvers over area fields — he also recalled having nightmares about the kamikaze attacks he witnessed.

“It was very hard … I was a mess,” Phipps said during the 2016 interview.

In the 1950s, Phipps began working for Fisher Controls, now Emerson. It was there that Larson first met his longtime friend.

“He was a day shift foreman and I was a second-shift foreman and we had the same area, so we’d communicate every day,” Larson said. “Over the years, he wound up retiring, I wound up becoming a shop manager … I retired in 2000, he retired a few years before that.”

Both men were heavily involved in the VFW. After having previously served as the state commander for the organization, Phipps encouraged Larson to pursue the position in 2005.

“We went to a district meeting up in Waterloo when it was time to elect new candidates for the state (commander) position, and the guy that was running got up and said he had to step back because of medical reasons, so Laurel says ‘Get up there, get up there,'” Larson said.

After a few years of moving “through the chairs” at the state level, Larson was named state commander in 2008.

“(Phipps) kind of took me under his arm, going through and showing me what we had to do on the state level,” Larson said. “He and I would room all the time, going to national conventions … we did that for years, to Kansas City, to Florida, to Indiana, you name it.”

He said he learned how strongly Phipps felt about veterans issues during their time as friends.

Phipps was also known for his involvement in the combined VFW-American Legion Honor Guard.

Reflecting on his service, Phipps said in 2016 that he has great respect for those who lost their lives in war.

“I’m no hero,” he said. “The only heroes I know are the ones that didn’t come back.”

That won’t stop Phipps’ friends from remembering him fondly and revering his call to service both in the Pacific in the 1940s and back at home for the past several decades.

“He was a good veterans advocate,” Larson said. “He was a good friend, he was a good mentor, he will be missed.”

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com