Our War: Korea ... This time, the telegram had good news for soldier's family

News-DemocratDecember 19, 2010 

Neighbors eyed a courier who worked his way to an East St. Louis home.

People stopped what they were doing that summer day in 1952 because they knew the Little family had a son in the Korean War.

A telegram could only mean Army Cpl. James E. Little was dead.

"My mother just assumed it was the worst and she was hysterical," Little said.

His sister, one of his 10 siblings, took the telegram from their mother's trembling hands and read it.

It was "good" news after all: Little was injured. Not dead.

A chaplain had told the family about the land mine explosions about 10 days earlier.

"I wanted the chaplain to tell them I was OK before the telegram so it wouldn't shock them so," Little said. "But it didn't quite turn out that way."

Little was a medic with a group of about 25 soldiers patrolling the Chorwon Valley in South Korea.

They were in heavy vegetation and didn't know they were in danger until someone triggered a mine.

Little could see blood gushing from the soldier's arm and back. He hurried to bandage him.

As Little lifted the injured soldier into a helicopter, someone tripped another mine. The soldier on the stretcher was hit by shrapnel from it and died.

It also tore a hole in Little's stomach.

"I could feel like I was taking in air," Little said.

"I could hear the guys yelling, 'Medic, medic, medic!' But I said, 'Wait a minute, I'm injured myself."

Somehow, Little was able to dress his own wounds. Then he crawled around and helped the others until the helicopter came back to take them away.

"Eleven people got killed that morning but I was one of the lucky ones who survived," Little said.

Little was in Korea for about eight months as a combat medical aide before he was injured in August 1952. He didn't have medical experience when he was drafted into the Army, but he was pre-pharmacy at the University of Detroit.

"I didn't really want to be a killer. I was pleased to be in a noncombat role," Little said.

Little served with the U.S. Army's 2nd Division, 25th Infantry

Little worked at a military hospital when he returned home and was discharged in 1953.

He then studied industrial education at the Tuskeegee Institute and went to other schools for master degrees in industrial education and administration and supervision, and a doctorate in biblical studies.

Little, now 80, spent his last 35 working years with the East St. Louis school district as a career department director for the middle and high schools.

Little and his wife, Dorothy, have five children, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Now he is an associate minister at Trinty United Methodist Church in East St. Louis.

Little's work with youngsters and his congregation have brought him peace.

He used to have intense flashbacks of the day he got injured, the day his buddies were killed, the day one soldier died seconds from safety.

"Some things you've got to learn to live with during war time," Little said.

He spent four months in a hospital in Osaka, Japan, recovering from the stomatch wounds and was sent home with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

"I looked at Korea one last time and said, 'If I never see Korea again, it'll be too soon for me.'"

Little arrived in East St. Louis about 3 a.m. in November 1952.

Nobody watched him walk up to the front door, but somehow his mother knew he was there. She even brought out the infamous telegram.

"Ain't nobody do much sleeping that night," Little said. "We just talked and rejoiced with each other."

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655.

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