A Tribute To My Mentor…

Wilbur Littlefield: Hero of World War II


(The writer is a former bureau chief in the Office of Los Angeles County Public Defender. He is now retired.)

Wilbur 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.

Primitive Conditions
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.

Deeds Remembered
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.

Tough Outfit
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.

Appendicitis Attack
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.”

Civilian Life
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

Metnews Link:,0,4693434.story

Eulogy written by Ken Green about Bill Littlefield:
Bill Littlefield was the Rolls Royce of men. He was a man’s man. He was the kind of a man that every little boy wants to grow up to be like. We were best friends for almost 40 years; this was the greatest honor of my life. When I was with him, I felt that I was in the presence of greatness. I loved him more than words can say, and I will miss him forever. When his daughter Marcia called to tell me that Bill had died, I could not articulate the loss. This was Bill Littlefield – he was not supposed to die. Bill’s friend Joe Cevitate said it best, “Now, what will we do?”

Most of you know that Bill was a war hero, but not all of you know what he did to earn the title. He volunteered for one of the most dangerous missions of WWII. He was an Alamo Scout, the forerunner of the Rangers, and, as an Officer, he lead his men deep behind enemy lines in Leyte and Luzon. They lived in trees and ate dogs to survive. On one occasion, they were surprised by a Japanese company, and they hid in the brush. A Japanese soldier urinated on his head, and, had he been caught, he would have been beheaded. These Scouts were the toughest of the tough, and the bravest of the brave. There were 138 Scouts. They went on 108 missions, killed 500 enemy soldiers, and took 60 prisoners. No Alamo Scout was ever killed or captured.

Bill was very moved by what happened to the Jewish people in the Holocaust. He had a very strong affinity for Jewish people, and reached out to them time and time again. One day, I said, “Bill, you are such a good friend to Jewish people, that I am going to make you an honorary Lantzman, by the power invested in me by Moses.” Bill said, “What will my Yiddish name be? “ I said, Velvil Kleinafield. He smiled.

After the war, Bill attended Hastings Law School at night, and worked on the docks in San Francisco as a longshoreman during the day. After passing the bar, Bill opened his own law office, but left private practice eventually. Law school never taught him how to collect from his clients. In 1957, he joined the Public Defender’s Office and became its 26th lawyer. Today, there are 700 lawyers. Bill distinguished himself quickly. He tried more death penalty cases than any other lawyer in California, and probably, more than any lawyer in the United States.

People have asked me what made Bill Littlefield such a great lawyer. The answer is that he knew the formula. He was the consummate gentleman. When Bill walked into the courtroom, the judges loved him, the court staff loved him, the DAs loved him, the cops loved him, the jurors loved him, and most importantly, his clients loved him, because he constantly visited them in jail to let them know he cared.

In 1976, Bill was selected by the Board of Supervisors as the Public Defender. He is the acknowledged father of the modern Public Defender’s Office in the United States.

Bill never missed a funeral. Whenever a public defender died, or for that matter, one of their relatives, Bill was there. After he retired, he would call me frequently, and say, “One of our guys has fallen. We have to go to the funeral.” The last one was just a few months ago, Willie Larsen. Bill and I were sitting in the pew, and the clergyman asked if anyone wanted to speak. Bill nudged me and I wheeled him up to the podium. It took all of his strength to stand, and he turned to the widow, and cried, and told her how much he loved Willie.

Bill had the best sense of humor. One day, we had plans to go out to dinner. I went to his office at 5 p.m., and he said, “Let’s go.” We walked to the elevator, and he said, “Ken, I have to go back and make a call, come with me.” He called an attorney in private practice who used to be a public defender, whose nickname was, “I will never return a phone call.” Bill disguised his voice and said, “You were my public defender many years ago, you did a good job. I am now charged with some bogus crime. I want to retain you. I have $25,000 cash, but you have to call me in half an hour. If I don’t hear from you in half an hour, I’m going to Harry Weiss.” He would also disguise his voice and call our personnel office and make complaints about public defenders and ask what they’re going to do about it.

About once every two months, my dog Honey would receive a letter from Bill’s dog, Angel. Angel was a smart dog, but never learned to spell, so every word was spelled phonetically. The letters were 3 pages, single-spaced.

Bill had a wooden sign on his desk saying, Smokers Welcome. When Bill and I would light up, after about 15 minutes, you’d need a flashlight to find the door.

In 1979, when I passed the Grade IV exam, Bill called me, and told me to come to his office. He closed the door and poured me a couple of shooters. God, I hope I’m not getting him into trouble.

Marilyn called me to come see Bill two days before he died. As I pulled up to the house, the American flag was flying. For Bill, it was always country first.

Last year, he gave me his Alamo Scout medal, and told me that if I were a few years older, he knew that I would have been fighting with him.

Three days before he died, there was a message on my email, “Ken, this is Bill, I love you guys.”

Bill, there are no more battles. Now you can rest. You will always be an Alamo Scout.


3 Responses to Tributes…

  1. Johnny Dark says:

    An amazing story, an amazing life, an amazing friend. Sorry for your loss. RIP. A pal Johnny D.

  2. Ken Green says:

    Your life is amazing as well.
    Proud to know you Johnny.

  3. Bill Cope says:

    As a former son in law of Wilbur I can only say besides being a great soldier he was a better human being. He was the Dad I never had and loved him and Vera dearly. He was the most wonderful father in law I ever could have hoped for. I am truly blessed to have had him in my life.

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