LOUIS C. LONG, Jr.
Master Sergeant | Infantry
Throughout his life, Louis never spoke of his service, instead locking those difficult memories with the rest of the mementos from his life in the Army in an old steamer trunk that sat tucked away in the house. His best qualities might have been forgotten along with his career in the Army - he was a distant father, belligerently demanding to see his daughter in the middle of the night after a few drinks had their desired effect, and had worked his way through at least three marriages, a couple of which were no longer than a few years.
His daughter never heard details of his 69 months overseas – over half of which were in combat – how in both World War II and Korea he never hesitated under fire and boldly faced the fray when he was most needed. Twice he was decorated for life saving, and there are undoubtedly more instances of good deeds on his part that are not documented and have faded away to time as he suppressed them and tried to forget, tucking them away along with the few precious items he kept in his footlocker.
Even before joining the service, Louis’ life was tumultuous. Army life, at least, provided stability and at most times, was predictable. Louis Sr. worked as a lineman for the railroad, trying to support his wife, Willie, twelve years younger than he, and their two children, Louis and his sister Mildred. When Louis was twelve, Mildred being fourteen, she was already married and died tragically from an accidental gunshot wound. Within two years, both his parents were remarried.
Louis finally found a stable home in the Army in 1935 and within five years was earning a solid $372 dollars per month with the rank of Private First Class. If he made Sergeant, he could nearly double that number, which seemed to be an extraordinary amount to be earning coming out of the depression. The advent of the armored forces provided Louis with the opportunity to excel, and he had earned his stripes before sailing to North Africa with the 1st Armored Division on May 10, 1942.
The desert was a solar furnace of unrelenting heat throughout the day. Men baked inside their vehicles and went through lengths of removing additional pieces of armor to allow more ventilation. The windscreen, advertised as bullet proof, was discarded as drivers found it to offer little protection from incoming rounds, narrowed their field of view, and absorbed enough heat to raise the temperature of the cabin beyond uncomfortable. Machine gunners did the same with the armor shroud around their gun mount, which did little against bullets but became searing to the touch when in the sun all day.
They soon found when traveling in their vehicles how to avoid mines hidden beneath the sands that had blown over to become smooth. As they pursued the Germans, they discovered that their paths were marked with trails of bloated bodies rotting in the arid sun, collecting pockets of sand in all sunken cavities and wrinkles in clothing. Between these corpses was an area of safe travel – beyond them laid minefields. It was a gruesome method of way finding.