Teeth, sweat, and years couldn’t tear these two apart; in fact, it brought them closer together. Both in their 90’s, Ira Larsen and Bob Meese, fellow veterans of WWII, celebrate a friendship that has lasted over 67 years and it continues still.
Ira, born in Brigham City, Utah, grew up a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He recalls his childhood Saturdays working at JC Penny’s. “I’d work 13 hours for two dollars.” Ira remembered, “That’d buy my lunch for a week and I’d have enough left over to take a girl to the show.” In 1942, after finishing a business degree from Woodbury College in Los Angeles, Ira joined the US Army to fight in World War II.
During 1943, Ira was assigned to a mule pack artillery unit, but the mule detail was short lived. By 1944 his division was assigned General Patton’s 3rd Army to fight in the European Theatre of Operations. He and his fellow soldiers, passed through France and Germany eventually finishing in Innes, Austria where they met up with the Russian Army. At the conclusion of the war, Ira ended his military service and returned to his studies and San Francisco, California where he enrolled in dental school.
Bob, born in Healsburg, California, grew up the son of a Protestant pharmacist. He spent much of his after school and holiday hours delivering medicine for his father. According to Bob, his childhood consisted of “pills, potions, and powders” as he learned about his father’s business. After high school, while attending junior college in Kentfield, California, Bob heard a radio broadcast announcing the attack on Pearl Harbor. Without delay, he signed himself up for service with the Navy V-12 program in Pocatello, Idaho. Bob served as an LST navigation officer during the invasions of Okinawa, and Iwo Jima. At the close of WWII he returned to the States and resigned his commission to attended dental school in California where he met his now long-time friend, Ira Larsen in 1947.
Their deep friendship developed during dental school, studying together in a basement laboratory they set up themselves. As they grew closer so did their wives and children. They only parted ways after graduation in 1951. Ira and his family moved to Tucson, Arizona, and while Bob and his family remained in northern California. While listening to the radio one day, Ira heard of a bad car accident out-of-state that left the passengers hospitalized. The passengers happened to be his friends Bob and Vivian Meese from dental school. After a long recovery, Bob finally gave into the persuasions of his friend and he and his family packed up and moved to Tucson.
The two friends set up their separate dental practices in Tucson. Bob Meese practiced pediatric dentistry with a specialty in orthodontics. Ira Larsen’s practice was primarily crown and bridge work, but he also pioneered the use of dental implants. The Meeses had been in Arizona eight years when Bob and his family accepted Ira’s invitation to find out more about his beliefs; Bob, his wife, Vivian, and their oldest son Allen were eventually baptized into the Church by their friend Ira. In the years to come, Bob and Ira were able to serve in many ways in the community including voluntary positions within the church. Among other positions, Ira served as a counselor in the Tucson Stake Presidency and Bob served as a Bishop. Now in their 90’s, Ira and Bob are home teaching companions, a companionship they’ve had since 1961. Along with presenting a Gospel-centered message each month, because the local congregations have no full-time paid ministry, home teachers are asked to make monthly visits to a handful of assigned households to watch over and minister to the families’ temporal and spiritual needs.
When asked about the key to a long, lasting friendship Bob responded, “It’s all about trust, respect, and a sense of humor, and,” Ira quickly added, “We had a lot in common”. Teeth, sweat and years of service in the military, dentistry, and church have helped these men strengthen the foundation of a friendship that has endured many things over the years, and they expect to endure all that is to come.
Southern Arizona veterans like Ira and Bob will be honored at the upcoming Tucson Mormon Heritage Festival and Veteran’s Day Celebration Saturday November 9th from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM at Fort Lowell Park in Tucson. The event is sponsored by the Arizona Historical Society and Fort Lowell Museum to recognize the meaningful contributions of Mormon Pioneers and Veterans in Southern Arizona.