Mannix About Manatee: Korean War veteran looks back

August 4, 2013 

The scars are remnants of a war Dale Long dismissed from memory.

The bayonet mark near his throat.

The indentation atop his head from a mortar attack.

Then there was the mysterious shrapnel the surgeon found during a procedure for colon cancer in 1984.

Think the doctor was surprised?

Long was even moreso.

"I didn't even know I had it in there," said the Oneco resident. "It was a piece of steel I got 30 years ago."

Thirty years ago ...

The Korean War.

America's forgotten war.

It took place between World War II and Vietnam.

We didn't win it, we didn't lose it and it ended in a stalemate that cost 36,516 American lives.

Six decades later the Korean peninsula remains a flashpoint instigated by North Korea's calculating Stalinist regime.

"It's like we didn't do a thing there," Long said. "But we had a rough time."

Now an 81-year-old widower, he served from January through September in 1953, primarily in the infantry.

Yet when the 60th anniversary of the Korean armistice arrived July 27, he paid no attention to it -- or the televised scenes of North Korea's orchestrated military celebration in Pyongyang.

A forgotten war, indeed, for Long.

"I've forgotten a lot, and I'd like to forget a lot more," he said. "When we came back nobody gave a hoot. A lady at my draft board said, 'Are you back already?' Ticked me off. They called it a conflict, but it was a full-blown war."

The youngest of seven, Long was a kid fromWarsaw, Ind., who worked at his parents' little gasstation from the time he was 12, helping support the family.

"I'd get off the school bus at 4 p.m. and a stack of tires would be there for me to fix," he said. "It kept us going."

Then came the draft notice and Korea.

That Long was his parents' sole support -- the gas station had closed -- made no difference. Nor did the fact he was leaving behind an expectant wife, too.

He was paid $28 a month and sent most of it to his family.

They almost never saw him again.

Tucked away in a sleeping bag with his .45 pistol that March, Long heard a noise and saw someone running toward him with a bayonet.

"You didn't have much chance to figure out who it was, so I fired through the sleeping bag and killed him with two shots," he said.

But not before the North Korean POW stabbed Long inches from his throat with the stolen weapon.

"Any closer ... curtains," he said.

Two months later, Long's unit fell under a mortar attack by Communist Chinese troops and he dove for cover.

"I jumped into a mortar shell hole and somebody, maybe two, three guys jumped on top of me, and there was another big explosion," he said. "Something hit me in the head and I got knocked out."

When Long regained consciousness, he was bleeding from his ears, nose and mouth.

But he was alive.

"The guys on top of me got killed," Long said.

Despite his wounds and combat experience, somehow he never received a Purple Heart, benefits or anything.

Long never gave it much thought until years later when he tried to follow up on the matter. Unfortunately, a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis destroyed more than 16 million military personnel files dating from 1912.

"I was up a crick," Long said. "All I got back was a letter acknowledging I served and that's it."

Still, he didn't know what he would've done with the medals. Medals of a forgotten war.

"I've already got my reward," Long said. "The Lord let me live."

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service