The USS Princeton was an aircraft carrier during WW11. She earned nine battle stars for the courageous efforts of her crew. During the Battle of Leyte Gulf, on October 24, 1944, she was hit by a Japanese bomb. That day, as she sank to her watery grave in the ocean, 347 brave Navy soldiers gave it all for their country. 552 were wounded, and four soldiers were missing. Miraculously, there were 1,361 survivors. William Z. Little, “Uncle Bill”, was one of those survivors.
Uncle Bill, along with two other Navy soldiers on the USS Princeton, manned a Bofors 40mm gun, which was used to shoot down the Japanese warplanes trying to bomb their ship. It shot a two pound bullet.
Uncle Bill was nineteen years old at that time…not even old enough to buy a drink. He didn’t talk much about the war, but the war did not destroy his sense of humor, or his love for his family and friends. He was an individual and a man loved and respected by many.
Uncle Bill’s Story:
“The Japanese bombers would come at us from the sun…you couldn’t see them until they were too danged close. But, the one that hit us came from out of the clouds. The bomb hit the middle of our ship, and it didn’t do much damage at first. But, things kept exploding, and fires were spreading all over the ship. It got so bad, I and my buddies went up on the deck to get ready to abandon ship. While on the deck, I remember a huge explosion. After that, I don’t remember anything else until I woke up under water. That explosion must have put me way up in the air, because when I woke up I was so deep under the ocean I thought I’d never get back to the top! But, I kept fighting and when my head finally popped out of the water, I was blind in one eye, couldn’t feel half of my body, and my head hurt bad. I kept blinking my eyes, and I could finally see even though things were blurry. I found a board from the ship, and I hung on to it for several hours. One guy tied himself to a mattress…when it sank, he went down with it. That bothers me to this day. I saw another one of my buddies and his face was burned really bad. He went under the water and I never saw him again. We “blew bubbles” under the water to keep the sharks away. I guess it worked – the sharks didn’t get me. After what seemed like forever, men on a boat pulled me from the water, and they covered me up with a wet tarp. I was freezing. Then, the boat took me to a ship, and I was helped on board. My ears were blistered, my hair was singed, and my feet were burned pretty bad. I had little burns all over me. I must have looked like a flying fireball before I hit the water! But, I was safe for the moment and I’m glad we didn’t get bombed again – I didn’t feel much like getting blown off another ship! I’ve had trouble with my knee and legs ever since that day, but I’m alive.”
Uncle Bill left the Navy, returned home, and raised a family of three children. He later retired from the United States Forest Service and spent the remainder of his years with his beautiful wife Lavada. He loved to hunt and fish, and was the best story-teller ever! Lavada still lives in the house that Uncle Bill built for them. Their home-place is the most beautiful place in the Ouachita Mountains. RIP Uncle Bill! You are missed more than you will ever know – and you will never be forgotten.