Sherman Claude Little, Jr.
Lieutenant Commander – US Navy, Pilot, Flight Instructor
& Instrument Instructor
World War II (1940-1945) & Korean War (1950 – 1953)
Lieutenant Commander Sherman Claude Little, Jr. has proud memories of his service as a Naval pilot, and a flight and instrument instructor during the World War II and Korean Wars in which he served. Mr. Little was the first in his family to serve in the military, enlisting at the age of 18 when most or many young men his age were signing up to serve their country.
“At the time I enlisted I wanted to fly in the worst way,” he says now from his Greenbrae home. His parents were apprehensive at first he says, but finally agreed once he turned 18, the then legal age to join. Mr. Little was born in San Mateo, CA on December 13, 1921 and raised in Burlingame, CA and then San Rafael, CA. He graduated from San Rafael High School in 1939, and had started classes at the College of Marin in Kentfield, CA just before his enlistment.
“I applied to the Air Force the first time I applied, but wasn’t accepted because I didn’t know enough about that particular branch of the military,” he says. The Navy did not require such knowledge at enlistment and the future Lieutenant Commander was accepted into the flight program. He was first sent to Saint Mary’s college in Moraga, CA for a 9 – week training course. From there he was sent to Corpus Christy Texas to train as a flight instructor.
He recalls his experiences in flight school and service as “a marvelous experience” and that the requirements in flight school were constantly changing. He remembers his superiors and peers favorably with “everyone getting along well.” Housed in the Officers’ Quarters he was comfortable and adds that “the food was very good.” All necessary gear and supplies were provided and there was no need for coping skills to help deal with the pressures of war.
”There wasn’t much to do for leisure in those days,” he adds, but he said that swimming and going to the movies were favored off duty activities.
From Corpus Christy, Mr. Little was assigned to serve in Beeville, Texas as a flight instructor. From there he went to Georgia to train as an instrument instructor. Then back to Corpus Christy and then back to San Diego for more instruction as planes and flying technology advanced. While in San Diego, near the end of the war, he was assigned to fly his plane from The Pine Island Naval Ship. One of Mr. Little’s duties at that time was to fly the coasts of China and Japan to survey and photograph the assigned areas.
One notable experience came when Lt. Commander Little and his crew landed their sea plane off the Bay of Japan for a closer look at sunken Japanese ships. Upon returning to the base he learned that that particular area of the bay was heavily mined with explosives. He is grateful that he and his crew were so lucky to have had a safe return. Another tense moment came once when an engine on his twin engine seaplane cutout while they were trying to get a closer look at the bay. “There were ten on board and everyone was quite anxious.” They were able to return to their base and land safely with only one engine.
Once the war ended Mr. Little returned to San Rafael to his family and went to work for his father providing commercial refrigeration for supermarkets. He was now married, with a child on the way, when called to serve again during the Korean War in 1953. It was during that tour of duty that Commander Little flew The Mars — the Navy’s largest seaplane based in Alameda, CA.
Now retired, he resides in Greenbrae with his wife, Winifred. He is the father of four children and the Grandfather of nine.
Years ago, his children preserved his many memories and photos in a book commemorating their father’s cherished years of service and duty. It is a very proud keepsake that he shares with friends and family.
His advice to the young people of today is to: “Stand up for what you think is right,” and “Always do the best you can.” Then, smiling, he adds “Of the armed forces the Navy is the Best!”
Thank you, Lieutenant Commander Little!
Interview by Samantha Shratter on July 6, 2011.