BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) – You are an infantryman in World War II. Your commander comes to you with a secret mission behind enemy lines. You’ll have to go it alone, and if you’re caught, the United States will disavow any knowledge of you. As far as the military goes, you’re AWOL. If you are killed, your family will not receive any life insurance.
It looks like a movie plot. But that was the exact question posed to Major Philip Larimore in April 1945. The secret mission he accepted led to the rescue of some pretty famous names. His weirder than fictional military career was organized by his son, Walt, after Philip died in 2003.
Like most men who survived the battlefields of World War II, Philip left his war stories behind.
“We knew he had a bunch of medals in his office,” Walt said. “And he had a bunch of pictures of generals signed like, ‘To a fighter,’ ‘To the best soldier I’ve ever fought with,’ but he never talked about it.”
It wasn’t until Philip was married for 50 years and his children grew up that he started talking about what happened there.
“The stories, frankly, are incredible. Stories of jumping on the back of a tank to save a squad. Stories of snipers being fired from a tree 100 yards away with a .50 caliber machine gun,” Walt added.
Walt had to find out, so he dove into his father’s life.
“He was a thug, a hooligan, and a delinquent, so his mom and dad sent him to military school,” Walt joked.
Philip graduated from the Gulf Coast Military Academy and headed to Officer Candidate School. He was commissioned a second lieutenant on his 18th birthday – the youngest commissioned officer in the US Army.
From there he set out for the trenches of Anzio with the 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Battalion.
“He went there, he said, ‘to screw Hitler up.’ For liberty, and liberty, and battle, and warrior, and hero. That first night, he realized he was there for his men,” Walt explained.
It was Philip’s job to supply these men to the front lines. A conversation with a farmer he met led Philip to change the way the entire army moved munitions for the rest of the war.
“The farmer said those mules are smarter than a horse. They know where the mines are and they will avoid them. When a flare goes off, they lay down and protect your men, and can carry more than any of your men,” Walt noted.
The 30th Infantry liberated Rome, Sicily, and drove the Nazis from the Vosges.
“They fought for 513 days non-stop. Dad fought for 413 of those days. Psychiatrists tell us that when a frontline soldier reaches day 200, that’s when they begin to lose touch with reality. These men haven’t broken for hundreds of days,” Walt said.
Philip was wounded seven times during the fighting.
“He got seven Purple Hearts. He turned down three because he said the injuries weren’t bad enough,” Walt said.
Philippe had not finished. The conversation with this Italian farmer put him on the path to a secret mission behind enemy lines.
“This chubby little guy who wanted to develop the perfect race also wanted to develop the perfect horse for the perfect race,” added Walt.
It turns out that the perfect horse was the Lipizzaner stallion. Rumor has it that Hitler’s vets raised them in Czechoslovakia. The army asked Philip to confirm the existence of the horses and the farm. A pilot took Philp to a small clearing dug in the Czech forest.
“They had set up a steeplechase race course. So the vet bet him he couldn’t beat him on the bell race course. Dad’s story was that he won the steeple race,” Walt said.
Shortly after Philip’s return, General George Patton authorized Operation Cowboy to rescue the last remaining Lipizzaners in the world.
Philip returned to his platoon where he was shot from the rear of a tank as he tried to save his team from an ambush. This last injury cost him his right leg. After his rehab, the military fired him.
By then, he had been awarded every medal of bravery awarded by the military except for the Medal of Honor.
“He never talked about those medals. He never talked about those battles and a lot of men were like that. They fought for freedom. They fought for freedom but when they came home they wanted to live their lives,” Walt explained.
This is what Philip did until 2003. He and his wife raised four sons. He put LSU’s cartography department on the map and earned a reputation for producing high-quality maps and charts.
You can read all about his stranger-than-fiction service in his son Walt’s book, At First Light: A True WWII Story of a Hero, His Bravery, and an Incredible Horse.
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