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The General's Cabin

About an hour and twenty-minute drive from Lexington, eight miles from Natural Bridge, sits a cabin with a rich history of a man who left poverty behind to become an American hero.

The General’s Cabin as it’s called is in Lee County near the town of Beattyville. You can’t see the cabin from a two-lane, winding mountain road. 

There’s a wood sign on a post partially covered in vines that has a white star and the words, “The General’s Cabin.”

A grass and gravel-covered driveway is marked with the street sign Little Ln. The driveway disappears into a thickly wooded area, and after several hundred yards you’ve arrived at The General’s Cabin.

It’s a simple-looking, one-story structure with a porch supported by four wood posts. Several rocking chairs, small tables, and planters full of colorful flowers sit below a porch fan. For the last twenty years of his life, this was the home of U-S Air Force Brigadier General James W. Little.

One of his four children, Joy Massey of Lexington, says the cabin is not luxurious. “It's not fancy. It's not elegant, but it's rustic.”

Massey and her husband Michael own The General’s Cabin which is made of golden oak and popular trees that came from the 40-acre property. The front doors lead into a vaulted ceiling main room with a kitchen on the left, a large stone fireplace in the middle, and a small loft at the other end. The room is full of comfortable leather couches, sitting chairs, shelves of books, and reading lamps. Two bedrooms and two bathrooms complete the rest of the 1500-square-foot cabin.

Michael says his father-in-law used materials from the surrounding area to build the cabin. The windows that cover the kitchen side of the cabin were in a nearby old school. 

“The windows all came out of an old school that he had attended as a boy. And he said to me, one day, yeah, you stare out these windows and dream of getting out of here.”

Joy says her father was born in 1920 and grew up in poverty a few miles from the cabin.

“He and his brother were both born in a little log cabin and was just he and his mother and his dad. There were no other children. Extremely abject poverty. They were so poor, that his brother had rickets. They didn't have really enough of the right nutrition. And that happens when you don't have enough B vitamins. They were extremely poor.”

After he graduated from high school in 1937, Joy says her father hitchhiked to the University of Kentucky in Lexington and became the first member of his family to go to college. She says Little was a firm believer in education as a way to move forward in life.

“He joined ROTC. And I think he got a small stipend. And he also worked at the coal plant at the University of Kentucky. And at night, he would shovel coal into the furnace at night, and then he would attend school during the day. He was an extremely industrious, highly intelligent, a complex kind of guy. But he had drive. And he was really quite brilliant.”

Little graduated with a degree in engineering. In 1941 eight months before Pearl Harbor Little was accepted for training as an aviation cadet with the Army Air Corps. This was before the U-S Air Force was established as a branch of the military.

Michael recalls a conversation he had with General Little.

“He said he decided he would rather be up in the sky than down in the mud. And so, he applied for and then was accepted into pilot training.”

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into World War II, and Little spent much of the war in the Pacific as a member of the famed Fighting Tigers. The P40 Tomahawks had a distinctive paint scheme showing the mouth of a shark.

Little is credited with shooting down seven enemy planes qualifying him as an ace.

Michael says Little helped start the U-S Air Force after World War II ended.

“At the end of the war there were 25,000 pilots in the old US Army Air Corps. And they mustered out all but 10%. They kept 2500 to form the separate service Air Force. And he was one of the 10% they kept. He's one of the guys who created the separate service Air Force.”

Following World War II Little was a test pilot and an instructor, but his days as a fighter pilot were not finished. During the Korean War, he earned a Silver Star for his bravery on June 27th, 1950.

Little was leading an escort mission to protect four transport planes that were evacuating civil service employees from Korea. Enemy planes attacked the group of American planes. Little shot down one of the Korean attackers. He then led the group of U-S planes to safety despite a fire in his cockpit.

Joy says her father is a hero.

“He was a true American hero. And as you said, his story is the quintessential American story. He went from rags to riches.”

General Little would earn many commendations for his heroism, and in 1969 during the Vietnam War, he retired as a Brigadier General. Little and his wife Jane returned to Kentucky to live in a large Lexington home, but the roots of his early life in Lee County were deep.

Joy says her father began building a cabin near where he grew up that eventually he and his wife would live in full-time. 

“It was what I call his Boy Scout project. It was his first foray into building. And he had all of these books that he gathered prior to deciding what he was going to build. So, I think this was a fun project for him.”

Michael says Little was reclusive, but also welcoming to family and friends at the cabin.

“He was not a small man in any way. I don't just mean physically because I probably had two- or three inches height on him. But he was a big personality. And as I said to Jane after he died, Joy's mom, he resonated with people. But yeah, he was a big personality and there was something about him.”

General Little passed away on February 22nd, 1995. He and Jane had been married fifty years. She moved back to Lexington after the general’s death. After Jane passed away, Joy inherited the cabin.

“We weren't coming up here very often. And we all realized, what are we going to do? Are we just going to let nature take over and just let it crumble into the ground, which is what he really wanted it to do. I don't think he wanted anyone to spend the time and energy and effort it would take to, to rehab it after his death. And then infrastructure things starting to be done, my mother needed to, you know, replace the sewer system and, you know, do things like that. And it was really with her in mind that Michael and I took this project on, because she didn't want to live here. But we all decided that we didn't want you know, want it to crumble and go away.” 

The Massey’s opened the cabin to the public as a vacation getaway and are proud to honor General Little’s memory. Guests can read about his achievements in a biography at the cabin.

Joy says, “it's a story worth noting, you know, people who come to the cabin to stay and read the bio, always leave messages in our guest book, when they realize that I'm aligned with him in terms of being his daughter. And they always make comments about thank you so much, thank your family for you know, because military families have a tough time.” 

In the end, Joy hopes people understand why her father placed too much emphasis on education.

“I want people to know that no matter where they come from, no matter what conditions, they live under, that with hard work, perseverance, and education, and drive they can get to where they want to be. And that was, you know, this little boy who had nothing, barely enough food to eat at times, and made his way in the world and came back and loved living here as an old man.”

You can learn more about the General’s Cabin at www.generalscabin.com.

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Sam is a veteran broadcast journalist who is best known for his 34-year career as a News Anchor at WKYT-TV in Lexington. Sam retired from the CBS affiliate in 2021.
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