(Picture courtesy of Hans van Toer)
Medals Pvt. Ernie Little probably earned
Ernest W. Little (a.k.a. Ernie) was born in Rising Sun, Maryland on December 1, 1918. Ernie was the oldest of 8 children, with 5 brothers and 2 sisters. While his mother, Aretha Gay Reed, took care of the children his father, Norman Little, worked at a milkfactory. Ernie’s mother suffered from tuberculosis and was because of that often in a sanatorium.
Ernie went to Rising Sun High School in 1933. When Ernie was 15 years old he left school and started working at Cameron Bros (his first job). Cameron Bros was a company which canned a variaty of food and transported it by train to the big cities. Ernest biggest hobby was palying baseball, and so he played with the Rising Sun Midgets. One of his other passions was the voluntary firemen in Rising Sun he was part of.
When Ernie was 20 years old he met a girl named Annie and married her on December 20, 1938. At the time of their wedding Ernie was 21 years and Annie 19 years old. They didn’t have enough money for a weddingparty or weddingpictures or someting like that. Ernie worked at a poolroom and Annie was a housewife. They had 2 children Dorothy Ann (a.k.a. Dot) born on June 25, 1939 and Ernest Edward (a.k.a. Ed) born on October 1, 1940.
On July 18, 1944 Ernest enlisted in Baltimore, Maryland. At the end of July Ernie received basic infantry training at Camp Blanding, Florida. During his training he spent a lot of time with his buddies George King and Jack Jolly and learned how to work with heavy weapons. After completing his training at November 25, 1944 he got his last furlough home to his wife and kids before he had to leave overseas to fight for the Liberation of Europe.
Pvt. Ernest William Little (Picture courtesy of Hans van Toer)
Ernie left overseas from the New York harbor on Christmas 1944. He left the American mainland aboard the USS General JR Brooks and arrived after 15 days in South Hampton, England. From England he left by boat for Le Havre, France and from there he went to Tongeren, Belgium. In Tongeren, Ernie and the others were temporary based to prepare for fighting at the front which was already near the Dutch-German border. Ernest became part of the 78th Infantry Division, 311th Regiment, 3rd batalion heavy weapons, Company M, 2nd platoon.
Early January 1945 Ernie’s unit left for the front at the Hurtgen Forest and traveled via Aachen, Germany. His unit arrived in the Simmerath area and had to take part in the fierce Battle for the Hurtgen Forest which started in September 1944. The German army held their entrenched positions at the Siegfried Line, which crossed the Hurtgen Forest. Both German and American forces took heavy casualties in this battle. Lots of American soldiers which were already in combat since the Normandy invasion and fought their way to Germany were killed in this battle, which was one of the heaviest of WWII.
The Hurtgen Forest was very large and the trees were that close together that you couldn’t find your way if you were once in it. American and German lines crossed eachother often and close combat was daily stuff for the men fighting in this battle. Objective of this bloody battle were the Schwammenauel dams near the town of Schmidt. The Germans threatened to blow the dams if Allied forces would cross the Ruhr River and would push forward into the Ruhr area, which was one of Germanies most important war factory areas.
Once Ernie arrived at the front near Simmerath he and Jack Jolly dug a foxhole in the deep snow. The days following they kept position in their foxhole, because they couldn’t push forward as a result of the German freshly launched Ardennes Offensive. Ernie and Jack both had to use their weapons several times, but not yet really in a combat situation. The Germans protected the roads at the dams near Schmidt with 6.000 men of the 272nd Volksgrenadiers.
Map of Simmerath area
About January 26, 1945 as the Ardennes Offensive came to an end the Americans made plans to capture the dams to prevent a German attempt to blow them. The 311th Regiment (Ernie and Jack’s regiment) started to reorganize troops and positions for a major attack that would start on January 30. Ernie and Jack, together with the other 180 men of Company M, moved and took position in a fanwise shape. On January 28, while Ernie and Jack both had guard duty at night, Ernie showed Jack his fresh arrived pictures of his kids in front of the Christmastree at his house.
The men were moved to some buildings nearby the front. There they practised in tankattacks, eliminating tanks and camouflaging in the snow. During those days the level of German artillery and machinegun fire was low. Objective of the American attack were the towns of Huppenbroich, Eicherscheid and Kesternich. Ernie and Jack’s Company M had to clear the town Huppenbroich from every German activity. To distract the Germans the Americans launched a fake-attack southwards were the American 8th Division was guarding their flanks and several other battalions opened major artilleryfire at the German positions. In Huppenbroich literally every building was defended by German SS-soldiers which would defend the area until their last man.
Again the American battalions were shifted to new positions, but now to prepare for the early morning attack of 30th of January. Ernie and Jack took position in an old bombed building a little outside the town of Simmerath. There they waited together with the other troops for orders and tried to rest a little. That night snow, frost and the southwest winds were heavy. At 03.00 Hours the men started to dress up in their white camouflage uniforms and didn’t talk a lot. The men were given rubberized overboats for better walking in the snow, but most of the men didn’t use them because they were too heavy. The men also received ammonition and handgranades. Jack took a look around and wondered who wouldn’t make it this time. Before the platoons left some of the guys did some prayers and kissed the pictures of their loved ones at home.
The American troops left the buildings or temporary shelters at 05.00 Hours and so the 78th Division left for their large attack, including Ernie and Jack’s unit. At 05.30 Hours while there was a snowstorm going on the men received the signal for the attack. The Germans dug-in very well and their positions were covered with minefields.
Ernie and the others of the 2nd platoon had to support Company I and then retreat. Meanwhile the Germans started a heavy artillery barrage at the Americans. After that artillery barrage the men climbed up a hill with an excellent view over the area. There already other American units were placing their heavy automatic weapons to fire at the Germans. Ernie and Jack’s sqaud led by Lt. Cole would take position there too and open fire at the remaining German forces in the town of Huppenbroich.
View down at Huppenbroich from were Ernie and the others of his platoon were taken under fire by the Germans (Picture courtesy of Hans van Toer)
Ernie and Jack’s squad passed through an open field and a little stream on their way up to the top of the hill (at the opposite of Huppenbroich). While “climbing” the hill through the big layer of snow and heavy wind the men found higher up an old mineshaft, excellent for cover. Lt. Cole ordered his 27 men to hide there until they received support from a Tankdivision which was kept in reserve to support them.
At 10.00 Hours, while hiding in the mineshaft, Sgt. Green ordered Jack Jolly to make a scout patrol in the area and find out were the German positions were. During Jack Jolly’s scout patrol German artillery spotters saw Jack and opened artilleryfire at him, and so the others in the mineshaft, among them Ernie. During this heavy artillery barrage Ernie’s mineshaft received a direct hit by a German artilleryshell, which killed 22 of the 27 American soldiers hiding it the shaft. Most of the men were instantly killed by the impact of the explosion, among them Pvt. Ernest W. Little. Jack Jolly survived as one of the lucky few the German artillery barrage and told as a direct eyewitness what happened to Ernie’s family.
After Ernie’s was recovered they buried him at the American Military Cemetery in Margraten, The Netherlands. Ernie was survived by his wife Annie, 5 year old daughter Dot and 4 year old son Ed. His wife Annie has never been able to visit the grave of her late husband Pvt. Ernest W. Little because of a short of money. Likely his kids probably will visit his grave in the future.
Pvt. Ernie Little's Grave; adopted by Hans van Toer since 2003
(Picture courtesy of Hans van Toer)
Meanwhile the adoptant of Ernie’s grave, Hans van Toer, lays flowers at Ernie's grave on special days. In 2003 Ernie’s granddaughter Sharon sent a little bag with soil from Ernie’s hometown to Hans van Toer with the request to strew it on Ernie’s grave, which adoptant Hans van Toer did. In return he sent Sharon a little piece of soil from Ernie’s final resting place, which she gave a special place in her backyard over in the USA.
Adoptant Hans van Toer placed a large cross with a shield on it in rememberance of what happened in Huppenbroich on January 30, 1945. He received help from Hans Keutgen and his son Sander (locals of the town Huppenbroich) in his search for the mineshaft at Huppenbroich in the Hurtgen Forest.
Adoptant of Ernie's grave, Hans van Toer, placed this cross with Memorialshield on March 10, 2007 at the edge of the hill with the mineshaft were 22 GI's were KIA (Pictures courtesy of Hans van Toer)
The shield reads:
"Dear Visitor, please consider a moment of silence.
At a distance of 100 meters, up the hill, were 22 young American Soldiers killed in action in a mineshaft at January 30, 1945.
Ernie William Little
born December 1, 1918 in Rising Sun, USA
died January 30, 1945 in Huppenbroich, Germany
member of the 78th US Infantry Division was one of them
Until today he still lives in the memory of his familymembers
thanks for your attention
Hans van Toer, adoptant of Ernie William Little's grave,
Margraten, The Netherlands "
If you drive by this place please consider for a moment which sacrefices those young men made so we can life in peace.
Thank you very much on behalf of Pvt. Ernest William Little's family from Maryland, USA
Pvt. Ernest W. Little's final resting place is, together with 8,301 brothers in arms, the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, Plot F, Row 10, Grave 6.
For more stories of soldiers adopted by mr. Hans van Toer:
Sgt. Sivert J. Carlson
Pvt. Clarence E. McCollum
Hans van Toer