By Ed Brock
In 1970 Clyde D. Long, Jr. drowned during a family picnic in Michigan.
Investigators told his mother Irene Long that 22-year-old Clyde Long's bad leg may have cramped causing him to be unable to stay afloat. It was the same leg that he had injured while serving in the war in Vietnam, an injury that had earned him the prestigious Purple Heart.
But Irene Long, 74, and the rest of the family knew nothing of the medal until 33 years later, this August, when Richard T. Frazier of Stockbridge found the Purple Heart among a warehouse full of abandoned property in U.S. Army Fort Gillem in Forest Park. The medal was still in the case and had with it a military identification card with Long's name, social security number and service number on it.
"1970! Why do I have a Purple Heart, identification card, dog tags for the same guy with some keys on it? How did it get here?" Frazier said. "This guy got wounded for our country and his Purple Heart needs to be back with him."
Thus began a quest that would eventually lead Frazier, a former Army soldier now working for Unified Consultants Group under the Director of Logistics at Fort Gillem, to essentially pick Irene Long's number out of the phone book and call her up.
"It just caught me totally by surprise," Long said.
Frazier's office had taken on the mission of sorting through the fort's abandon property facility back in March. Frazier and another worker were cleaning off some shelves to make way for boxes when Frazier discovered a stack of four or five award cases and the Purple Heart.
The first step in returning medal, Frazier thought, was to call the Veterans Administration.
"If he had a service connected wound, and obviously he did since he got a Purple Heart, then the VA ought to have something on him," Frazier said.
But the VA could only tell Frazier that Long had died in 1970 but couldn't tell him the names of next of kin. So Frazier decided to contact the Purple Heart Association.
"I was told that a person has to be alive to join the association, it is not automatic upon receiving the Purple Heart," Frazier said.
After another dead-end, Frazier decided to just look up the name in the phone directory on the Web. He put in the name Long, Clyde and got 100 hits.
"Oh boy, that was a little bit more then I could swallow," Frazier said.
But Frazier then narrowed down the options to five by putting in the middle initial D., and two of those he eliminated because they were for a Clyde De Long.
Of the remaining three, the first was busy so he called Irene Long in Wayland, Mich.
After confirming that he had the right household Frazier and Long started an emotional discussion.
"I'm an old crusty lieutenant colonel and I broke down and cried with her," Frazier said. "It was quite an emotional experience."
Long said that her son was a well liked man whose funeral was well attended.
"He didn't like to see anybody mistreated or any animal mistreated," Long said, tearing up again as she recalled her son. "I felt so proud, so proud that he earned that because he was so willing and ready to go to war."
Clyde Long Jr. drowned one month before his own son was born, but Irene Long said she hasn't decided whether to tell the son about the medal.
"He gets really emotional about his Dad, not being with his Dad," Long said. "I hadn't planned on telling him because I didn't want to bring more pain on him."
Long, a widow, said she sent the medal to her daughter, Roberta Bailey of Montana.
"They were so close," Long said.