Monday, May 30, 2016

Seaman First Class Joseph Gustave Little 1923-1941

This is a perfect Memorial Day post because it is about my dad's childhood best friend, Seaman First Class, Joseph Gustave Little who died while on active duty.  Long before Joe enlisted in the Navy in December of 1940, he and my dad were neighbors and playmates. They both attended Erasmus Hall High School but Joe was born on November 18, 1923 so they weren't in the same graduating class. In fact, Joe may not have graduated from high school at all. The article I read just says he attended Erasmus Hall High School. I imagine that he left school and enlisted in the Navy near the start of the war. Dad often spoke about his friend Joe Little whose parents were dad's concept of "rich" because Joe and his sister always had enough food to eat and lots of great toys to play with. Dad and Joe would often play with Joe's younger sister Laura and participate in her pretend little girl "tea parties."

The tragic story of Joe's heroic death starts with a story my Dad told me. The story was that Joe had missed the U.S.S. Reuben James which he was scheduled to serve on. His father, Joseph Patrick Little, did what any good father would do, he gave his son money to take a taxi to the next port of call for the ship so that his son wouldn't be penalized. Joe traveled all the way to meet the U.S.S Reuben James at its next port of call only to have the ship sink off the coast of Iceland on October 31, 1941 after being hit by a Nazi torpedo. Joe Little was an 18 year old boy when he died.  He was only a little bit older than my son is now. I know that 18 year olds are old enough to go to war but I can't even imagine what Joe's parents went through after learning their son was one of the casualties on the U.S.S. Reuben James. Joe's father was interviewed by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle shortly after his son was killed. I am surprised that in that article, Mr. Little is very critical of the Navy and stated that the Reuben James was a "crackerbox" that shouldn't have been used in a battle because it could not withstand a torpedo hit. I am sure that he was right about his observation but at that time, it was fairly unusual for anyone to criticize the government or the military in print. It would be similar to someone bad-mouthing the government on the internet today. Joe's parents had to be heartbroken knowing that he died after he made a valiant effort to reach the ship he had initially missed. I proved this story is true by emailing the National Archives with the question of whether they had any record of Joseph Little missing the U.S.S. Reuben James and they did. The Navy files from WWII are still available. They were not burned in the 1973 fire at NARA. I always knew my dad was telling the truth about this story but now I have confirmed it.

The following is what "Wikipedia" says about the sinking of the U.S.S Reuben James in WWII:

USS Reuben James in World War II
Upon the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, she joined the Neutrality Patrol, guarding the Atlantic and Caribbean approaches to the American coast. In March 1941, Reuben James joined the convoy escort force established to promote the safe arrival of materiel to Great Britain. This escort force guarded convoys as far as Iceland, after which they became the responsibility of British escorts.
Based at Hvalfjordur, Iceland, under command of LCDR Heywood Lane Edwards, she sailed from Naval Station ArgentiaNewfoundland, on 23 October, with four other destroyers to escort eastbound convoy HX 156. At daybreak on 31 October, she was torpedoed[2] by U-552commanded by Kapit√§nleutnant Erich Topp near IcelandReuben James had positioned herself between an ammunition ship in the convoy and the known position of a "wolfpack", a group of submarines that preyed on Allied shipping. Reuben James was hit forward by a torpedo meant for a merchant ship and her entire bow was blown off when a magazine exploded. The bow sank immediately. The aft section floated for five minutes before going down. Of a crew of about 160, just 44 enlisted men and no officers survived.[1][2]






Service #2239634
RankSeaman First Class, U.S. Navy
Entered Service FromNew York
Date of DeathOctober 31, 1941
StatusMissing in Action
MemorializedTablets of the Missing
Cambridge American Cemetery

Awards: Purple Heart




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