OBITUARY: Col. Richard Littlestone, Community Activist, Responsible for the New VA Columbarium

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Col. Richard Littlestone, a long-time Palisadian and activist, died in his sleep on May 15. He was born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1923.

In 2019, Littlestone wrote to Circling the News, “Thanks for the delightful article on Route 66. Our family: my mother, father, brother and I, moved from the Chicago area to L.A. in 1929, driving the original Route 66.”

Littlestone transferred from UCLA to Berkeley in 1942 and was enlisted in a Navy reserve program. But in 1943, he was drafted by the U.S. Army. Then, out of 2,400 draftees, the commander recommended him to West Point, where there were 120 openings for active-duty soldiers. He was sent to Amherst College for courses and entered West Point in 1944, graduating in 1947.

Dick’s first assignment was in Germany, and he had to be in Brooklyn by July 19, 1948. He married his wife Doris in Los Angeles on July 11, the day before her 19th birthday, and even though he didn’t have orders for her to accompany him overseas, the two started driving across the country.

Their first night, in Barstow, Dick called to see if Doris had received clearance. He repeated the call from Las Vegas and every other stop until they arrived in Des Moines, where he finally was told she could accompany him.

Littlestone spent 32 years in the Army, serving as a battalion operations officer in Korea and a logistics officer in Vietnam. His valor and skill earned him a number of decorations including the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, and more than a dozen other medals.

In one of many notes to CTN, Littlestone wrote: “For most of that time in the Army, I was stationed, with Doris and our children, in other states and countries. Over those years, we drove Route 66 many times with our children to return to LA for visits with family & friends. An enduring sight along the Route was the changing series of fun Burma-Shave signs.”

The couple had three children — Richard, Nanette and Mark — and Doris remembers that he didn’t see his daughter until she was 16 months old because he was in Korea.

The couple, who were married 72 years, moved to the Huntington Palisades in 1972.

After 32 years of military service, Littlestone went back to school and received a master’s degree in business from the Anderson School of Business at UCLA, adding to his master’s degree in physics and nuclear engineering from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

He served as Chair and Professor of the UCLA Department of Military Science and Associate Director of the UCLA Computers and Information Systems Research Program in the Graduate School of Management.

One day, Littlestone learned that Los Angeles vets had to be buried in Riverside, because the National Cemetery in Westwood had been filled by 1978. He started a one-man campaign in 1997 to have the VA build a Columbarium at the West L.A. Veterans Administration campus, which turned into a 22-year effort.

In 2014, Littlestone told the press: “When I started working on this, I was doing it for the veterans in Los Angeles.” And then he underwent open-heart surgery and suffered from shingles and worried that his wife would have to travel a long distance to his gravesite.

But his pleasant, quiet and determined persistence of contacting news media, Congressman Henry Waxman and different VA Secretaries finally paid off. In 2017 there was a ground-breaking ceremony for the Columbarium, which can hold ashes for nearly 100,000 veterans. The site was dedicated in October 2019.

Littlestone also volunteered on the 1984 Olympics Youth Activities Subcommission, whose report led to the creation of the LA84 Foundation, which has provided an average of $7 million in grants each year to youth sports activities and installations throughout Southern California.

In addition to belonging to Ronald Reagan American Legion Post 283, Dick was also active in Pacific Palisades Rotary. Members remembered him at a May 18 meeting. One said, “He was always a worker; always had a project in mind. His motto was always helping others.” Another commented, “He was a good guy, someone I was proud to associate with. He was not self-important.

Littlestone, with the help of then-Councilman Marvin Braude, got a stop sign installed at the corner of Antioch and Swarthmore.

“That was my first community doing and I’ve been trying to help out ever since,” Littlestone said in an interview. He later worked to get the left-turn signal installed at Mandeville and Sunset, the streetlights in the Huntington Palisades upgraded and a safer student drop-off plan adopted at Paul Revere Middle School.

Pacific Palisades Community Council President David Card said, “He single handedly got the homeowners association and the city to beautify the little street island at Alma Real and Ocampo. He made every effort to phone and write to get people to help him accomplish it.”

More recently, Littlestone was working on the sidewalk on Antioch (at the driveway next to Cafe Vida), which is not handicapped accessible. He had sent several letters to CTN and to Councilman Mike Bonin’s office.

He is survived by his wife Doris, children Rick (Toni), Nanette (Peter) and Mark (Allison) and grandsons Cooper and Hudson. Services, which will be held at the Columbarium, have not yet been set. Cards may be sent to 1158 26th Street #401, Santa Monica, CA 90403.

Dick Littlestone in front of the traffic island on Alma Real he helped beautify.

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