Veteran's Day is Nov. 11, and for many years now I have told stories of World War II veteran's from this area; stories gleaned from old copies of the Enterprise.
Today's story, as we pay tribute to all American veterans of all wars, is very special to me. It is about my brother-in-law, John Arthur Littlefield, a kind and generous person who survived, what historians said, "was the single largest and bloodiest battle of WWII"; and then at age 67, died of cancer at his home in March 1990.
John was a one of seven children of James Herbert Littlefield and Grace Hayes Littlefield, a prominent Tupper Lake family. Five of the Littlefield brothers were all in the service at one time; John, David, Charles, Robert and Dan. James was rejected for service for health reasons. The only daughter, Mary, was a stewardess with American Airlines when WWII started.
John ended up serving as a medic in the Infantry after being rejected for the Army Air Force because of a punctured ear drum ... he had completed a course, with academic credit, in advanced engineering at Texas Technological College in Lubbock, Texas.
He was then assigned to the 12th Armored Division after training at Camp Barclay, Texas. His division served in Europe with the 3rd, 7th, 9th and 1st French armies. Under General Patton it was known as the Mystery Divison and spearheaded the drive of the 3rd Army to the Rhine. So John had been in many battles when the bloody Battle of the Bulge started on Dec. 16, 1944 and did not end until Jan. 25, 1945. The location was in the Ardennes Forest on the German/Belgium border where the Germans had launched a huge offensive to try to take the city of Antwerp.
Most combat veterans won't talk much about their experiences and John was no different. He did reveal this much to me about a single moment in this battle when he and his best friend, a fellow medic, were treating the wounded from a farmhouse. A soldier was hit nearby and as they both started to run out to treat the soldier, John told his friend to stay back, as they sort of took turns bringing in the wounded. Before John got back, a shell hit that corner of the farmhouse and his friend was killed.
The bronze star awarded
Following is the official letter awarding the Bronze Star medal:
"General Orders _ Number 67 - Headquarters 12th Armored Division APO 262, U.S. Army, 6 July 1945:
"John A. Littlefield, 12 080 799, Technician Fifth Grade, Medical Detachment, 17th Armored Infantry Battalion, for heroic achievement on 3 April 1945 at Herrnberchtheim, Germany. Technician Fifth Grade Littlefield, aid man with Company A proceeded to the side of a seriously wounded officer despite heavy artillery and sniper fire. He then supported the wounded officer to a place of relative safety. After rendering first aid, T-5 Littlefield left the protection of a building and under heavy fire, ran three hundred yards down the road returning with an ambulance with which to evacuate the wounded officer. Entered military service from Faust, New York." (He apparently was wounded at that time - read on.)
Purple heart awarded
Here are excerpts from a letter written by Vincent S. Cotroneo, M.D., Commanding Officer of John's Medical Detachment:
"I certify that John A. Littlefield of Faust, N.Y., formerly T-5 in the medical detachment of the 12th Armored Infantry Battalion of the 12th Armored Division was injured in battle on 3 April 1945 at Herrnberchtheim, Germany. He was hit in the right leg but refused hospitalization and the Purple Heart fearing news of the wound would harmfully affect his seriously ill father. He was wounded while giving aid to wounded men and received the Bronze Star for his heroic actions.
"I was Commanding Officer of the medical detachment and this man's superior officer at the time of this action."
Lt. Dan Littlefield killed in crash
With the war well over, Mr. and Mrs. Littlefield were stunned in March 1946 when they received a war department telegram that their son Lt. Walter (Dan) Littlefield, 25, was killed in a plane crash in Formosa. He was an Army Air Force photo intelligence officer and had flown many aerial reconnaissance missions stationed during his 17 months in the Pacific combat area. He was then stationed on Guam waiting to come home when he volunteered for the trip (as he told his family before the flight, because he was bored).
From the Tupper Lake Free Press: "In a letter penned aboard the plane he wrote that the party of ten officers and men, headed by Maj. Gen. James E. Parker, commanding officer of the 20th Air Force would visit Tokyo, Okinawa, Shanghai and Manila before returning to Guam." Gen. Parker was piloting the Flying Fortress when it crashed into the side of a mountain in the wilds of Northern Formosa.
He had been married to Ava Stafford of Wichita, Kansas only about one month before going overseas and she was residing in a little apartment at the Littlefield home in Tupper Lake waiting for his return when the family received news of the crash. John later told the story that his mother was at their store in the Junction and collapsed when the telegram came about his death.
The six Littlefield men all graduated from Spring Hill College (a Jesuit school) in Mobile, Alabama. Here is an excerpt from a citation by J. Patrick Donnelly, S.J., and President of the College: "to confer the degree of Doctor of Education (honoris causa) on the father of all the Littlefield's, Mr. J. Herbert Littlefield." Mary Littlefield graduated from St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana with a Bachelor's degree in French.
John married my sister, Rita Riley, at St. Bernard's Church in Saranac Lake in June, 1952. They met as lab technicians when both were employed at Sunmount Veteran's Hospital. Mrs. Littlefield lives in the house on Racquette River Drive that they purchased in 1955. John established the Littlefield Insurance Agency in 1956 now owned by their son Peter.
Their four children and grandchildren are Kevin and Patty Littlefield with Hannah and Owen; Peter and Elaine Littlefield with Ryan; Tim and Rosie Littlefield with Shannon, Max and Eli; Rob and Lisa Littlefield Gillis with Riley and Libby.
The surviving family are brothers Charles of Rochester and David of Middlebury, Vt.