William J. “Bill” Larkin Jr., a decorated combat veteran who spent 40 years representing the Hudson Valley in the New York state legislature, died on Sept. 1 at the age of 91.
Born in Troy, Larkin enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private in 1944 – he believed he was 18, but later discovered he was actually 16. He served in the Pacific during World War II and entered Officer Candidate School after the war ended. He led an all-black unit in the last years before the U.S. military was desegregated, and later served in the Korean War. He retired from the U.S. Army in 1967 as a lieutenant colonel and earned the Legion of Merit, seven Army Commendation Medals, one Battle Star for the Philippines and six Battle Stars for the Korean War during his military career.
Larkin, a Republican, began his political career in a single term as New Windsor town supervisor before being elected to the state Assembly in 1978. In 1990, he was elected to the state Senate, representing sections of Rockland, Orange and Ulster counties, and would win 13 additional elections before retiring in 2018.
Larkin was best known during his Albany years for advocating the creation of the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor and successfully petitioning the U.S. Postal Service to issue a “forever” stamp honoring the Purple Heart. Last October, he sponsored legislation that renamed the Bear Mountain Bridge as the Purple Heart Veterans Memorial Bridge. Larkin’s legislative record also included sponsoring legislation that required Pulse Oximetry testing for all newborns and successfully working for the creation of the Newburgh Armory Unity Center, a community center for children and adults. By the time of his retirement, he received a 79% approval rating from the Business Council of New York State.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised Larkin’s career of public service. “Senator Larkin led by example every day of his life and was an inspiration to me and countless others who wanted nothing more than to serve the people of this great state and nation,” Cuomo said in a statement.