by Erica Oglesby

CORNELIUS – Born and raised in Cornelius, Harold Little grew up doing what his elders told him to do. And in 1944, Uncle Sam told Little, then 18 years old, that he was going to war.

The military pulled Little out of high school before he could graduate and sent him to Camp Croft, near Spartanburg, S.C., where he became a member of the U.S. Navy. Happy with his orders, Little can recall friends questioning why he wanted to be in the Navy.

“At least I’ll have a good clean place to sleep on ship,” Little replied.

When his Army friends fired back with a question about what would Little do if the ship sank, he remembers responding, “Well, then I won’t need a place to sleep!”

From Spartanburg, Uncle Sam sent Little to boot camp in Norfolk, Va., and then to Orange, Texas, where he found his bunk on the USS John Rodgers, a destroyer. Little was aboard the John Rogers’ maiden voyage, when it blew a generator and had to return to San Francisco for repairs.

Finally, the ship arrived in the Pacific to face the Japanese.

Now 84, Little still remembers the cramped quarters on a ship he shared with about 390 other men.

Anchoring off Japan’s shoreline, Little was part of an air-sea rescue team that would pick up crews of bombers that missed an aircraft carrier’s deck and crashed into the ocean.

Because two boats could not anchor side-by-side at sea, the air-sea rescue team had to use a netting seat and “life line” between ships to send men back and forth.

“I thought that was the thrill of a lifetime seeing someone else doing it,” Little joked, remembering watching others take a ride on the “life line.”

Serving until the end of the war, Little did not set foot on Japanese soil until after the U.S. had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“I know they surrendered because they heard we were coming,” Little said.

One of Little’s most vivid memories from his time in service was walking in Japan on land flattened by the atomic bomb and seeing shadows burned onto the roads from the bomb’s intense heat.

“That was the hardest thing for me to absorb. It is hard to think of what happened to the people,” Little said. “It was a different world over there.”

Once ashore, the men got liberty to do as they pleased for several days but were warned to avoid any structure marked with a red flag, a sign of hostile occupants. Unfortunately for Little, he and several comrades unknowingly wandered into hostile territory and landed in a Japanese jail cell deep in a valley for two days before the military rescued them.

“It was quite an experience,” Little said. “We didn’t see much sunlight.”

Returning home in 1946, Little obtained his GED and married Annie Ruth, now his wife of 57 years. Father to Kathy Birch, Vicki McGinnis and David Little, Harold Little also has five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He served as mayor of Cornelius  from 1985 to 1993 and has spent half his adult life serving the community in local politics. He currently serves as chairman of the Cornelius Crime Initiative.

Little’s experience in World War II was the beginning of his life as a public servant.

“Well, I lived through it and got back home,” Little said. “It is something I will never forget, that is for sure.”