Sixty-nine years ago today, five U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi amid the battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.
Mike Long, 90, Logansport, remembers it well.
Then 19, the Marine corporal was manning his 50-caliber machine gun on the beach below when his friend alerted him of the flag going up in the distance.
”’Hey Mike,’” he recalls his friend telling him, “‘there goes the colors.’”
Although far away, Long said the red of the flag lit up the western sky.
Others noticed it as well. Ships in the nearby ocean started shooting their guns in recognition while service members on the ground blasted their horns.
”They all thought we had won the battle,” Long said, “but it had just begun.”
Long joined the Marines in 1943, a year after graduating from Logansport High School. He recalled the stark contrast of going from playing baseball and basketball with his friends to the harsh realities of war.
Long said he wanted to serve in World War II after Pearl Harbor was as attacked by Japan in 1941. His sports background led him to favor the Marines, explaining as far as the military goes, they are “the best team.”
”I always loved the Marine Corps,” Long said. “I like what they stand for. They don’t piddle around. When they need something done, they call the Marines in to do it.”
Long took a shrapnel wound to his hip in 1945 and ended up in hospitals in Pearl Harbor and Oakland, Calif. During this time, Japan surrendered and the war ended.
Years earlier, Long had encountered the man who would go on to sign the Japanese Instrument of Surrender — U.S. Navy Adm. Chester Nimitz.
Long told of being on base on the Hawaiian island of Maui when he noticed a motorcade leading a limousine sporting a star-decked license plate.
It was Adm. Nimitz sitting in the back, whom Long saluted. Donning a look of surprise he said he felt that day, Long said the commander of the Pacific Fleet saluted him right back.
”If that car had stopped and he got out, I’d have probably fainted,” Long said.
Long said he never felt his wound was worthy enough to seek or accept a Purple Heart. Besides, he added, he had what he felt to be the best medal of all — both of his dog tags. Possessing those meant he made it out of the war alive.
It would go on to be a life that continues to bring him much joy and pride.
”I’ve had the best life in the world,” Long said. “I’m the luckiest man. Whatever I did, I always came out good.”
It’s been almost seven decades since he witnessed the flag raising at Iwo Jima as it was photographed by Joe Rosenthal, who would later go on to be recognized for it with the Pulitzer Prize for Photography. In that time, Long raised a family, had a shot at playing for the New York Yankees, led an extensive career in local law enforcement, had a beer with a Kennedy and experienced scores of other memories, many of which are preserved in the photos and trophies throughout his home.
Long played first base for a baseball team sponsored by the Logansport Eagles that won a statewide semiprofessional tournament in 1948.
It isn’t the only accomplishment from his baseball days. Not long after the war, Long was scouted by the New York Yankees. Although it didn’t work out, he said he is grateful for their consideration and recalls the scouts’ honesty when critiquing his play.
”They never tell you the things you did right, only the things you did wrong,” he said with a laugh.
Long was working for Muehlhausen Spring in 1949 when he obliged some friends’ encouragements to seek a career in law enforcement.
He started as a patrolman at the Logansport Police Department and eventually rose to chief of police. He was Cass County Sheriff for a term in the 1970s, culminating what he calls “a wonderful career.” Long said he is thankful for the opportunities he had to help people as a law enforcement officer.
One of Long’s duties was to help guard Sen. Robert Kennedy on his visit to Logansport in 1968. He recalls Kennedy shaking his hand, thanking him for his service and enjoying a beer with him at then-Mayor Martin Monahan’s home.
After retiring from law enforcement, Long worked as a security guard at Wilson Food. Today he lives at home with his son.
Of all his memories, the ones he speaks of most fondly are those involving his family — his late wife, Lois Jean, who went by Jean, his son Brad’s music garnering popularity as far as Japan, his daughter Janet’s teaching career and the academic accomplishments of his grandchildren.
”In 90 years, I think I’ve done about all I can do,” he said. “But I’m not quitting yet.”