It was exciting last week to see Dr. Thomas Long be recognized for his military service.
He is a World War II veteran in the U.S. Navy and he served in the Pacific theater as a corpsman.
I had the good fortune a few months ago to be seated at the same table as Dr. Long and he was telling me about some of his exploits. He hadn’t yet gone to medical school, so, even though he had trained as a medic, his medical experience was still pretty slim.
But someone set him to figuring out a way to reduce the amount of malaria being reported by soldiers at his base.
Dr. Long figured out a way to reduce the number of mosquitoes in the area and the number of malaria cases fell.
Trust me when I say it was much more interesting to hear him tell that story than what you just read from me. The guy’s just a genius. And, he’s about as humble a fellow as you’d ever want to meet.
On Thursday he was called to the front of the room by two women who were there to present him with a quilt.
The quilt is intended to “cover” those touched by war. Dr. Long certainly was. As he said Thursday, though, he was able to return home, start a family and build a life here. We are all the better for it, too.
Dr. Long was gracious and humorous when he received the quilt. The presenter wrapped around his shoulders and he seemed to delight in standing in front of the crowd with two women.
Until recently, Dr. Long was only one of three members of his Rotary Club who were World War II veterans. Another, Dolian Harris, passed away last year. The third, Sam Winstead, is still kicking and active too. Like Long, Winstead has lots of stories to tell about his wartime service – which coincidentally, was also in the Pacific theater.
Colleen Sain, the lady who presented Dr. Long with his quilt on Thursday, pointed out that more than 242,000 quilts have been presented to veterans since the project began. She told me that most of those had gone to Vietnam veterans or to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
She seemed genuinely excited about the chance to present one of the quilts to a veteran from World War II. The number of World War II veterans still alive is falling every day, she said. That makes it especially important to recognize that generation of veterans.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II, only 389,292 – less than 2.5 percent – were still alive as of last May. That number is certainly smaller than that today.
Person County has always been Johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to recognizing its veterans. And I’m sure those recognitions will continue for a long time to come whether its recognizing veterans one at a time like what happened last week with Dr. Long, or whether its a collective recognition at an event like the Veterans Day and Memorial Day observances held each year.