Harry remembered life on the home front. “I split and stacked wood, slopped the hogs, and rounded up tin cans for the war effort. One day I bought some firecrackers, drilled a hole in a piece of fire wood, packed the hole with firecrackers then plugged the hole. Well, sir, two days later our neighbors wood stove blew up and the butter bean pot went clean into the attic. The patched hole can still been seen in the house. Yep, I took care of the fire wood and my dad took care of my rear end.”
A 1953 graduate of Newton County High School, Harry missed the war in Korea by less than a year. “I found employment at Sears but realized I’d be drafted sooner or later. Mr. Ginn, proprietor of the Ginn Motor Company, was our selective service administration. I joined the Army with a buddy. We took several tests and a recruiter told us our scores were very high so suggested we go into the ASA. When we asked what the ASA was, we were told it was only for the best, so we both agreed to go.”
NOTE: The ASA, Army Security Agency, fell under operational control of the National Security Agency until 1977 at which time the ASA merged with Army Military Intelligence.
Sent for basic training at Fort Jackson, SC, Harry said of Army life, “Well, being Depression babies it didn’t bother us at all.” More examinations and tests. Next stop: Fort Devens, MA. Harry recalled, “Tests and more tests before we were told our field would be cryptography. We had no idea what that was.”
Camp Gordon in Augusta: “We trained on rotor machines and code books. We learned to code and decode. All behind barbed wire, I may add.”
His buddy was shipped to Manila; Harry drew assignment in the Alaskan Territory. “Alaska at the time was not a state,” Harry said. “It was like a foreign country, our status was foreign duty. I flew most of the way then boarded a WWII attack vessel, USNS James O’Hara, in Washington State for the voyage to Anchorage. We slept in the cargo hold, rough seas and sick soldiers.”
Assigned to Fort Richardson near Anchorage, Harry recalled, “We slept in Quonset huts out in the boonies until they built permanent barracks. I worked in the Communications Room at ASA headquarters until a few of us were finally assigned to ‘out’ stations also called ‘field’ stations. It was cold, real cold.” ‘Cold’ meant minus 65 degrees with 65 mile per hour winds.
“We would take trucks as far as possible then switch over to Weasels or Otters (tracked vehicles). We transported everything, including all our equipment and as much alcohol as possible to prevent freeze up. You see, once we cranked up a generator it had to keep running. Antifreeze would freeze; but alcohol would not. We’d set up as close to Russia as possible; monitor their air waves, then move on if they spotted us.”
On the native population of Aleuts and Eskimos: “Most of those people didn’t live to see forty; they died young. They never bathed, consumed raw meat, and would wrestle with you for garbage. They carried their dead in a box to the top of a mountain and just leave it there. If we had a thaw, the boxes would slide down into our camp. Not very pleasant.”
‘Field’ stations had no medical facilities and the soldiers lived on canned rations and powdered foods. “Most of us got frostbit,” Harry said. “We were told if our larynx or lungs got frostbit just hang our heads over our bunks so we wouldn’t hemorrhage. You never went outside alone. You had to protect one eye and one ear, so if you lost one due to the cold at least you still had the other. My left ear froze, my hearing is gone. Still have problems with my left eye. Most of us suffered the same fate but here’s the kicker; the VA would not accept most of our claims because, well, we ‘weren’t there’. Security was so tight there is not one piece of document on our orders saying we served with the ASA in Alaska.”
His duties: “We’d put up dish antennas then point them at Russia. We could pick up anything they said. The info would come in and we would disseminate the intelligence. We had language experts for translation.” Rank was non-existent. “I was up there for 30 months and never made PFC. You made PFC when you left so if needed they could call you back into service. President Eisenhower finally changed all that; after fifteen months you made PFC.”
On receiving the Covington News: “Near the Arctic Circle it would take up to six months for me to receive the paper. I told my parents about a year in advance not to send anymore papers.”
Intelligence can have serious shortcomings.
“My company commander, James Morris, had a law degree from Emory University. He took a liking to me and appointed me company armorer. We had carbines, grease guns, and a few machine guns. When I asked him what my duties were as company armorer, he said, ‘Destroy the equipment with special hand grenades if we were overrun by the Russians, fight until the last bullet is expended, then be sure everyone takes their cyanide pill.’ I asked what happens if they don’t take the pill and he replied, ‘You shoot them. Can you do that?’ I told him I was from Porterdale, so I didn’t really care.”
Cameras were a no-no. “No photos, that’s for sure. We had to learn to snow ski; we had special shoes for skis and snow shoes, but could wear just about anything, especially to stay warm. Our supply line was bush pilots, WWII boys, they didn’t come then we didn’t eat.”
Harry didn’t drink or smoke. “I swapped booze and cigarettes with the Eskimos for silver dollars. Shoot, I saved a chunk. My wife came up for my last year in Alaska and stayed in Fort Richardson. When it was time to go, I bought an old 1950 Buick and we headed for Fort Lewis, WA to get my discharge. Shoot, all the other guys were spic and span at Fort Lewis and I looked like I’d been out prospecting. Anyway, we drove all the way home, down the coast and across the southwest with moose horns on the front of that Buick. Still have those horns.”
Harry Long returned to Sears, earned a BA Degree from Georgia State, took the Federal Service exam and, lo and behold, became an agent for the I.R.S. “Not the best of ways to make permanent friends,” he stated with a smile. “But the I.R.S. was different back then. Things were clear cut, good guys and bad guys. Now I’m not so sure who’s bad and who’s good. The world has changed, and in my opinion, not for the better.”
After retiring from the I.R.S., Harry has spent the last 20-plus years serving with the Pine Valley Mission. “We work with underprivileged children, be sure they have clothes and shoes, a warm place to sleep. We buy school supplies for about 100 kids.” The biggest destroyer of American families? “Drugs,” Harry stated. “It’s rampant. Like I said, the bad guys seem to be winning.”
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.