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Franklin W. Littleton Jr., decorated World War II veteran

Navigator flew aboard B-17s in European and was career Air Force officer

By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

4:27 PM EDT, May 1, 2013

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Franklin W. Littleton Jr., a retired career Air Force officer and a businessman who was a big-band and Dixieland music aficionado, died April 20 of complications from dementia at Nichols Eldercare, an Edgewood assisted-living facility. The Bel Air resident was 91.

The son of a contractor and a homemaker, Franklin Walter Littleton Jr. was born in Baltimore and raised on Clearspring Road in Forest Park.

He was a 1939 graduate of Polytechnic Institute and studied law at the University of Baltimore at night while working at Montgomery Ward and the Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River. He later earned a bachelor's degree.

Mr. Littleton enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1942, and after graduating from the bombardier and navigator school in Victorville, Calif., was assigned to anti-submarine duty aboard B-25s that patrolled the East Coast from Otis Field in Hyannis, Mass.

While flying on patrol missions, Mr. Franklin became acquainted with Ellis M. "Woody" Woodward, a pilot. In addition to flying together throughout World War II, they became lifelong friends and business associates.

After anti-submarine patrols were assigned to the Navy, Mr. Littleton and Mr. Woodward were trained to fly B-24 Liberators. They were assigned to the 493rd Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in Debach, England, where they were trained to fly B-17 Flying Fortresses.

"You could still lose up to two engines on a B-17 and still fly back across the English Channel," Mr. Littleton said in an interview with the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress.

Mr. Franklin flew his first mission on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

In the Veterans History Project interview, he explained that on D-Day, "We didn't drop a single bomb. We couldn't see the ground."

In his book, "Flying School: Combat Hell," Mr. Woodward wrote about Mr. Littleton.

"Franklin was one of those unusual people who, when they talked on the intercom, seemed to calm the fears of everyone on board the airplane," wrote Mr. Woodward, who died in 2004.

"Why this was so is hard to explain, other than to say, it must have been because of the calmness of his voice, no matter what was happening," he wrote.

By the end of the war, Mr. Littleton had completed 30 missions over France and Germany and was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with oak leaf clusters.

After the war, Mr. Littleton remained in the Air Force and from 1954 to 1957 was based at Sculthorpe Air Force Base in England, serving as a squadron navigator for the 84th Bomb Squadron, which flew North American B-45 Tornadoes. The jet bombers were able to carry nuclear and conventional bombs.

"We flew mock bomb strikes right up to the Iron Curtain to show the Russians that we could deliver the goods if necessary," wrote Mr. Littleton.

Mr. Littleton, who spent the final years of his career as an ROTC instructor at the University of Maryland, earned a master's degree in education while at College Park.

At the time of his 1962 retirement, he had attained the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Mr. Littleton then went to work as a stockbroker with his wartime comrade Mr. Woodward at Stein Bros. & Boyce Inc.

Mr. Littleton later joined him in a new venture when Mr. Woodward established Star-Grip Glove Co. in Timonium.

Mr. Woodward, an avid golfer, designed and developed a golf glove that gave golfers a better grip. They were used on the PGA tour by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins and Hale Irwin. Star-Grip Glove Co. marketed and sold the gloves, which were made in England.

After the business was closed in the 1980s, Mr. Littleton went to work as a warehouse planner for Maryland Cup Corp., from which he retired in 1986.

He later worked as a "standardized patient" at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he posed as a patient to give medical and nursing students hands-on experience in dealing with patients and developing a bedside manner, family members said.

Mr. Littleton fully retired in the 1990s after working for several years as a real estate appraiser.

He was a lifelong fan of big-band and Dixieland music and in a 1997 letter to the editor of The Baltimore Sun recalled his first live concert.

"I was seduced by big-band music a very early age (15), my first witness to a live performance being the Jimmie Lunceford band at Carlin's Park in 1937," he wrote. "I can remember to this minute the feeling of being swept away emotionally when that powerful, beautifully arranged and performed music literally pounded my heart and other internal organs."

Mr. Littleton said he later became a regular at the Royal Theater, Strand Ballroom and New Albert Hall. When he was in the Air Force during the 1950s, he attended a Louis Armstrong concert in Munich, and afterward, the noted musician invited him to dinner.

The longtime resident of Lyman Avenue in Govans, who moved to Bel Air in 2003, did not play an instrument.

"There was always music in the house and later in life he joined an Irish singing group," said a daughter, Susan J. Behm of Wiltondale

He was a member of the Grachur Club on the Magothy River, where he enjoyed sailing.

He was a member of the Unitarian Universalists of Fallston, 1127 Old Fallston Road, where services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Littleton is survived by his wife of 34 years, the former Susan E. Mannion; a son, Stephen J. Littleton of Phoenix, Ariz.; another daughter, Barbara H. Littleton of Baltimore; a sister, Kathleen "Kacy" Littleton of Hunt Valley; a grandson; and four great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Jane Lee Johnson ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com