Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Wilbur Littlefield: Hero of World War II
By KENNETH GREEN
(The writer is a former bureau chief in the Office of Los Angeles County Public Defender. He is now retired.)
ilbur F. “Bill” Littlefield enlisted in the United States Army, shortly after Pearl Harbor. He was 19 and a student at UCLA.
Bill entered Officer Candidate School and graduated as a second lieutenant.
He served in the Pacific Theatre.
About a year and a half later, he became aware of a “secret unit” being formed by the beloved Lt. General Walter Kruger.
The unit was called the “Alamo Scouts” named after Kruger’s admiration for the battle of Alamo. Kruger was a Texan.
The Alamo Scouts were the forerunner of today’s “Special Forces and Rangers.”
The volunteers selected were the toughest of the tough and the bravest of the brave.
Only one out of 50 applicants were selected and unbeknownst to them, they were watched night and day to assess their character traits for teamwork, bravery, etc.
Bill was selected.
The enlisted men were told to select the officers they wanted to lead them; Bill was selected.
This top secret unit went deep beyond enemy lines to provide intelligence.
They lived in trees; they ate dogs to survive.
Their lives were in constant danger.
On one occasion, Bill and his men were surprised by a Japanese company. They hid in the brush and a Japanese soldier urinated on Bill’s head; he didn’t move a muscle. Had they been caught, the Japanese Officers would have beheaded them.
Bill was the featured speaker on the History Channel a few years ago when they profiled war heroes. He is written about in the book, “Shadows in the Jungle.”
The Scouts liberated 197 Allied prisoners and provided tactical support for the 6th Ranger Battalion during the raid of Cabanatuan Prison Camp.
The Scouts performed 106 missions behind enemy lines without losing a single man.
The unit was disbanded at Kyoto, Japan in November 1945 and each scout was awarded the Special Forces Tab.
A few months ago, Bill received a letter at his home address. It was written in Chinese.
Bill got an interpreter.
It was written by the wife of a Chinese man who told her that Lieutenant Littlefield saved his life during the war.
Bill’s best friend in the Scouts was Sgt. Zeke “Chief Thundercloud” McConnell, a Cherokee Indian.
Bill saved his life on Luzon when the soldier, an enlisted man, was disabled and couldn’t move. Bill carried him to safety.
When this soldier recently died, his son sent Bill his head dress, his most sacred possession.
Bill and I have been best friends for almost 40 years. I have never seen him cry until two weeks ago when his dog Angel died. He can’t stop thinking about her.
Bill’s team was a tough group—especially Sam Armstrong and Allen Throgmorton.
Prior to joining the Scouts, both had been first sergeants before being court martialed: Armstrong for stabbing a man to death in a knife fight and Throgmorton for stealing the company funds and going on a drinking binge.
On one mission, Bill and his team boarded a P.T. boat headed for the island of Roemberpon, a native island off New Guinea. Riding with them was a local chief who acted as a guide. Littlefield called one of his men to ride in a rubber boat when they got closer to shore. Bill said, “You ride with me and the chief and if he’s leading us into an ambush, kill him.”
Far from being ambushed, when the scouts landed, they were treated like conquering heroes.
The villagers had never seen a white man.
One night, Bill and his men were sleeping in a tent on the island of Palo. The scouts were awakened by gunfire. Japanese soldiers attacked the camp and when it was over, Littlefield found dead Japanese soldiers within 30 yards of his tent.
Bill suffered an attack of appendicitis and General Kruger feared that Bill might have a flare up in the field and their team might be lost since the men would never abandon their leader. Doc Canfield, a medic, told Kruger “Hell, he may never get another attack; he’s good to go” and he was.
On one mission in the city of Baybay in the Philippines, Bill and his men rode in Jeeps for 10 hours trying to determine enemy presence and mines. Bill recruited local fishermen to deliver him and his men behind enemy lines by canoe.
As the natives paddled, they pointed out to Littlefield the location of mines which Bill relayed back to headquarters.
The information he gathered led to the invasion five days later and Ormac fell to the Americans.
Bill Littlefield and his team drew the first Alamo Scout Mission on Luzon. Their mission was to reconnoiter southwest of Tarlac.
Passing through the American lines, Littlefield and his men were the first Americans the Filipinos in this region had seen in three years. They gave the Americans flowers and sang the “Star Spangled Banner.”
After his discharge from the Army, Bill completed his undergraduate studies at UCLA and was then accepted at Hastings Law School in San Francisco.
He went to Law School nights and worked on the docks days.
He joined the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office in 1957 as its 26th lawyer.
At that time, there was also a Los Angeles City Public Defender’s Office, handling only misdemeanors.
Bill quickly distinguished himself as a star.
He tried more death penalty cases than any lawyer in L.A. County—probably more than any lawyer in California and perhaps more than anyone in the country.
He was promoted to “Chief of Branch and Area” after eight years of trying death cases.
In 1976, he was selected as the department head and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1993.
He served a total of 36 years in the office.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company