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Recalling Pacific invasions, Fred Long can laugh now

 

Fred Long now at his home in Grand Coulee. - Roger Lucas photo

Now, 95 years young, World War II veteran Fred Long walks with a slight stoop and uses a cane, but his health is fine and his power of recollection is keen.

Long, who has lived in the Grand Coulee Dam area for 25 years, was born in Oroville, and moved to the Renton area when very young.

He joined the National Guard in 1940, before the war broke out, was assigned to the quartermaster corps and learned how to drive truck (they were 1936 Chevys), Fred said. After a number of stateside postings, he was sent to Hawaii to prepare for the retaking of the Philippine Islands in 1944.

He remembers well, and with a lot of detail, landing on Leyte in mid-October 1944, about 20 miles from where ("I Shall Return") Gen. Douglas MacArthur made his staged landing on Leyte.

As a truck driver, Long had the hair-raising job of driving a truckload of ammunition (of all types) to where the fighting was. A stray shell could have ended it all back then for the now-aged veteran.

But it didn't, and he laughingly tells about getting his waterproofed truck to shore.

"We had to drive off the ramp into the water and then make shore," Fred stated. "The truck went in head first and stalled, so I got on the running board and stepped into the water. It was real deep, and I took a plunge."

Anyway, they had to pull the truck out with a tank.

Once he got on shore, incoming artillery shells from the high ground nearby forced him to find the deepest hole he could and dive into it.

"I could see some soldiers getting hit, and then someone would pull them into a hole for cover," Fred recalled.

The Leyte campaign was lengthy, and when his role was over he found himself on an LST (landing ship, tank) heading to Okinawa, Japan, for the invasion there. That was in March, 1945.

"We went in on the second day," Fred said. "We ran into some potential trouble getting in, and I saw one of our ships, a destroyer escort, get blown out of the water. We, along with a number of ships, picked up survivors."

When that campaign was over, Fred returned to the Philippines, this time on Mindanao, to wait for his return to the states. The military had a point system to determine who got to go home. "I was one point shy of getting an early return," Fred said.

However, had he known, and claimed an injury from a piece of shrapnel, he could have been in the first bunch returning.

Fred in uniform.

"The shrapnel was always flying around and I took a piece about the size of the head of a match in my arm," Fred explained."I dug it out myself and let it go at that. Some encouraged me to put in for a Purple Heart, but I didn't. Had I known about the point system then, I could have picked up 10 points."

He started his military career with two of his brothers, Harry and Bob, both older than he. They became separated and each headed his own way.

"I was in the military five years, four months and 23 days," Fred said.

Long was a corporal in rank when leaving the service. He is a member of the American Legion here.

See the special veterans section in this week's Star newspaper, featuring photographs of many of the veterans in the area.

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