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Dec. 11, 2017
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Meet Rich Little: one of a kind national treasure

By Pamela A. Keene
 
Men like Richard Little are rare as hen’s teeth. At age 93, he’s a World War II veteran of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, a paratrooper who, like so many World War II vets, did his duty to protect freedoms that we Americans hold so dear. But, also like the brave veterans from that long-ago era, he’s reticent to talk about his time in the war.
 
Fast-forward to August 2017. A very young-looking Rich Little sits back in his man-cave pine-paneled library of the house he built on Lake Lanier about 25 years ago when he moved to Georgia at the urging of his younger sister, Marianne and her husband Clay Bowers. “I moved here and less than two years later they moved to Lake Tahoe,” he said matter-of-factly with a slight smile. “And then, I figured I’d live here about five years all together, and look at me, I’m still living in Georgia.”
 
Settling in as a southerner
He’s made himself right at home as a Southerner. Born in Ohio, he’s lived on the West and East coasts before settling in Georgia. When he was discharged from the Army, he earned his degree from the University of Michigan, then headed to California to work for General Dynamics, the start of his career in jet propulsion that eventually put him in a job at the Pentagon and meant a change of venue from sunny California to Virginia in the 1980s and early 1990s. He also started and ran a consulting business from 1992 to 1997. He worked with Atlas and Minuteman missiles and spent time doing evaluation and research for NASA.
 
During his career, Rich took plenty of time for leisurely pursuits. When he lived in California he was an avid snow skier. He also is a pilot and owned a few planes, “because it made it much easier to get to the slopes by flying,” he said. “I flew quite a bit.” While in Virginia he raised horses that ran steeplechase; he also rode in fox hunts. “Horses were a big part of my life when I was in Virginia,” he said. “I had a trainer and several jockeys rode my horses, and even when I moved here I almost always go to the Atlanta Steeplechase.”
 
Vintage car collector
Rich’s love of the finer things in life has led him to become a classic car collector. He got into cars around 2000, when he purchased a two-tone dark and dove gray Bentley that supposedly belonged to Joan Crawford. He recently sold the 1956 Bentley to a good friend. “I miss that car, but it’s couldn’t have gone to a better person,” he said. “It was really kind of tough when one day at our breakfast group, he drove up in ‘my’ Bentley, but I’m really glad he has it.”
 
Today, he’s got a pristine 1973 Rolls Royce, plus a 2015 platinum 350 convertible Mercedes and a 2016 Cadillac. He’s also owned a Jaguar convertible and several other classics along the way.
 
So how does Rich decide which car to drive? “Well, I get up in the morning, brush my teeth, have my coffee and watch ‘Morning Joe,’ then I decide,” he said. “I’m not so much in a hurry anymore, so I guess it depends on things like the weather.” He mostly drives the Mercedes – with the top down if it’s a pretty day – but he gives the Cadillac its chance in the sun, too. “I won’t drive the Rolls if it’s raining, but I do drive it a lot in the afternoons.”
 
Rich belongs to several classic car clubs, including the Mercedes, Bentley and Rolls Royce groups. It’s a good social outlet for him because the groups plan driving excursions for members, sometimes traveling to the mountains or nearby historic attractions. He takes the cars to area car shows from time to time as well.
 
Like clockwork you can find Rich and, as he calls them, “the old car guys” having breakfast together every Saturday morning. Mostly the group of a half-dozen or so gather at Avocados on the Gainesville Square, but lately they’re branched out to Talmo. He often goes with his next-door neighbor Bill Tannehill, who serves on the board of the Lake Lanier Association. “Bill was one of the first people I met when I moved here,” Rich says. “And I often have supper with him and his wife Diane.”
 
He listens to classical music and reads, enjoying the views of Lake Lanier from his comfortable home under tall hardwoods. He travels a bit, visiting his sisters in Tahoe and Santa Barbara. He’s also traveled the globe, but his favorite places are in Europe, including London, Paris and Austria.
 
Joining the military
And that brings us to his military service.
 
“When Pearl Harbor happened, people got the message about what was going on, but I had to wait until I turned 18 to enlist,” he said. “I signed up for the Airborne, because I thought it meant I would be flying planes. But I ended up at Fort Benning training as a paratrooper, jumping off 250-foot towers and learning how to land. Soon he was on his way to Europe to be part of the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge in the 101st Airborne, also known as the “Screaming Eagles.”
 
They were dropped behind the lines with the mission to protect the area from the Germans. At one point, he was hit by shell fragments in his hip and back during the second week of the Normandy invasion. That took him back to England, but by September 1944, he was deployed again, this time as part of the campaign in Arnhem and Ardennes. (Editor’s note: If you’ve seen the 1977 film “A Bridge Too Far,” you’ll be familiar with this campaign that was also called “Operation Market Garden.”)
 
“When we were relieved from Operation Market Garden and sent back to France, we were supposed to be resupplied and reoutfitted,” he quietly explained. “But the Germans attacked our outnumbered troops in the Ardennes and the division was rushed to the Bastone area of Germany without any new equipment or outfitting.”
 
His deployment stretched into 1945. “The time, especially between December 15 and January 15 was the longest 30 days of my life. It was very brutal, and we lost more troops than in any other battle of the United States military.”
 
 “That was the roughest part of the war because we hadn’t been resupplied, the weather was 17 degrees below and we were always trying to keep warm,” he said. “It was the coldest winter in 75 years, and the weather was so bad that we couldn’t fly. Rations were in short supply and basically the mission was a failure.”  
 
Rich was interviewed several years ago as part of the Veterans History Project, an initiative that videotapes veterans’ stories. “That’s the first time and the only time I’ve ever talked about the war,” he said quietly. “I just haven’t wanted to talk about my military life; that was 75 years ago.”
 
Rich Little is an American Hero, but he would quickly deny that statement. Little reflects on his fellow paratroopers. “There are not many of us left these days,” he said. “We did what needed to be done.”

Posted online 7/31/17
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