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By Alice Gerard
The late Bud Long served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II as an airplane mechanic. This is the second part of his recollections of his experiences during World War II.
He explained that, prior to the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, preparations had to be made for temporary advance airfields to be placed in Europe. These airstrips, which were known as emergency landing strips, were built in Great Britain and were then placed in Normandy and other locations. These temporary airports had tents for billeting and support facilities, as well as an access road, which was built to the existing road infrastructure, a sump for supplies, ammunition, and gasoline drums, along with such infrastructure as drinkable water and an electrical grid for communications and station lighting.
These temporary advance airfields were used for strategic bombing of Germany, as well as for the tactical support of advancing Allied ground forces, according to Wikipedia.
Long said, “Any plane at night that was flyable had to go back to England. They didn’t think it was going to hold there (in Europe). We had to stay, but all the planes went back.”
“We operated a main strip between the infantry and the artillery for emergency planes to land on our side of the line. We maintained 48 different places. I saw Europe,” Long explained. They traveled in a captured German Jeep that he and his companions had repainted an olive drab. “We drove through Holland, Luxembourg, and Germany. In Linz, Austria, we met the Russians.”
The U.S. Army and the Red Army met in Linz, Austria, early in May of 1945.
Long said that, shortly before Paris was liberated, he and his fellow mechanics were enjoying drinks at a bar in LeMans, France, where they heard a man speaking perfect English, he asked, “‘Where the heck did you learn your English?’ He was laughing. He said, ‘I was a champagne and wine salesman in Florida for France. Like a damn fool, I came back in ’38 or ’39.’
“He made it out of Paris and stayed with this buddy of his in this tavern and hid from the Germans. If any Germans came there during those four years, he’d go down to the basement to hide. After they left, he'd come back up again. We talked to the major because we were looking for someone to be an interpreter for us. I said to him, ‘How would you like to be an interpreter?’ So, we got him a GI uniform.”
On Aug. 16, 1944, the interpreter asked Long and his companions if they would like to go to Paris. “He said that the Free French were in there, and they got it. I know that it was the 16th because Kathy was born the day we were in Paris.”
Kathy was Long’s eldest child. He and his wife, Lucille Killian Long, had two more children after the war: Christine and Jeffery.
The group left at about 4 or 5 a.m. on a road that they called the “Red Ball Highway.” It was a two-lane road, but there were double lanes heading to the front. On that road ammunition, food, clothing and other things were delivered to the front.
“We followed a convoy in. They got outside of Paris, and they pulled off. We got into Paris, and we had an apartment there. A German officer maintained one of the apartments upstairs. They must have just left. Their uniforms and everything were there hanging. They went out the back door. We came in through the front. We only stayed there a few minutes. The Free French said we’d better get out of there. They (the Germans) are only two blocks down the road from here, and they’ve got a machine gun set up, waiting for you guys to come down there.
“We turned around and went back out of Paris. We stopped at the Eiffel Tower for just a few seconds. A machine gun opened up in the Eiffel Tower, so we left. We had to take all the back roads. We had to make our own way back because everything was going to the front. There was no direct line going back the other way. We got back at 1 o’clock in the morning. The major was really shook up. He knew we took off for Paris. There was a telegraph from the States that Kathy (Bud’s daughter) was born. That was quite an experience.”
Paris was liberated between Aug. 19 and 25, 1944.
“We went to Paris after it was liberated. We thought that we would go there in the daytime, and there would be flowers and wine. Guess what. It was 3 o’clock in the morning in a convoy. Nothing. Everything was dead. On Red Bull Highway, they changed the signs around and put it down as a dead-end street. They put the whole convoy down there with halftracks, tanks and everything else. They turned that whole convoy around. We walked up to a Jeep. A guy with a flashlight was trying to read about how to get the heck out of there. That was a lieutenant colonel. He didn’t know how to read the map.”
“We finally got out of there and got within sight of Paris in the morning. We were 40 miles outside of Paris the end of August. Then we got bogged down in (a town on the border of France and Germany). The fields got muddy. The tanks couldn’t go in them. You couldn’t move. You had to stay on the main highway.”
As the seasons changed, the difficulties did, too.
“We were staying in tents that were dug into the ground in the field. And it’s 10 or 12 above zero. You couldn’t keep warm for nothing. So, we had a lieutenant with us. Saunders. He was like one of us. He said, ‘Give me that uniform, I’m going to go with you.’ He’d put on any GI uniform and would go into town with us. He said, ‘Don’t call me sir anymore.’ He liked to party and all that. There was a town maybe twice the size of Nunda (in Livingston County, where Long lived after he retired from his job as superintendent of water and wastewater for the Town of Grand Island).
“The lieutenant said, ‘There’s a school and the kids can’t go because they don’t have any coal to heat it.’ So, we went in and talked to the ones in charge. He said, ‘Tell you what. We’ll get you some coal for the school. We’ll get the fire going.’ It was like Sidway was. It had six or eight rooms in it. The auditorium was a combo. There was a basketball court. And there was a small kitchen.
“That was a coal mining area and, about two miles back, there was a big coal mine. We went and got some coal and got the fire going. We’ll get three of the rooms for the kids, and they could use the auditorium and the kitchen. We brought a box of rations. The kids had nothing to eat. We fed them in the morning and gave them a lunch. They only stayed until a little after lunch and then they went home. We sent a box home for them to bring to their families. We got there a week before Thanksgiving and stayed there until the second week of February. We got to know the people. We got to know the town. There was a theater there. It had water up to the second or third level. The basement was full. We pumped the water out. We got the furnace going with some coal in there. There was a USO show at Christmas time there. There was a hotel. It had a bar and a restaurant downstairs. She was there all the while the Germans were there.
“We were told, ‘You guys are nothing like them. You treat us like human beings. They (the Germans) ate and drank and raised heck and kicked the place apart and paid for nothing.’ She (the owner of the house where Long and his companions stayed) had chickens. She’d mixed stuff with it. She had a small garden with onions and peppers and stuff like that. It made for a fairly good meal. She had 10 bedrooms upstairs. We slept upstairs that winter. We had a feather bed and covered up with a feather bed. She was a great gal. When we were leaving, she was crying as if we were leaving home. She had two daughters. One was 22 and the other was 18 or 19. They were crying because they would never see us again. We said that we would stop and see them.
“And we did. When the war was over, we came back with our trucks. A bunch of us signed up to take the trucks. We left the halftracks. We took the Jekylls. The weapons carrier, which was like a three-ton Dodge. I drove that. I was lucky. There was just a bunk bed, but it fit in the back of that truck. Any place we stopped, I could crawl in there and go to sleep. Coming out of Linz, Austria, we would drive 40 or 50 or 100 miles, and we would pull into a campground. By that time, they had it set up for transits. So, you could stay and eat with them, or you could stay in the barracks. By the fourth or fifth night, we were back in France. We had the same problem. When we went to leave, ‘Oh, we’ll never see you again!’ We told them that we’re going home, we’re going to get settled and we will come back to see you, ma. Not one of the guys ever did. We went all the way back from Linz, Austria, to Marseille, France. We were supposed to load and go to Japan. We loaded all our equipment on board. We went to a theater in Marseille, France, and everyone is celebrating.
“ ‘What’s going on?’
“ ‘Japan surrendered.’
“We caught a Swedish liner, which held about 12,000 of us. It was supposed to take us to Japan for occupation. We were told, ‘You’re lucky. They changed the orders. You’re going back to New York City.’ We decided that, if we ended up in the Panama Canal, we were jumping ship. We weren’t going to Japan. We’ll take our licks and go home and be locked up for a while. Once you went to Japan for the occupation, you were going to stay six to eight months. We were one of the first groups to go home.
“When we came back, I said that I wanted a 15- or 30-day furlough. I hadn’t been home in over two years. I was married, and Kathy had been born. They were going to make me a tech sergeant and move me up a notch. I asked for 30 days at home. They told me to take the discharge or sign up for three years. I said, ‘Give me the discharge.’ I went home. Within 30 or 60 days, a letter came. ‘You can reenlist with your rank and everything.’ I just threw it in the garbage. I never answered them. I was done.
“Curtiss-Wright took me back but, by then, Curtiss was winding down. My cousin, Ralph, who lived across the road, and I both went back to Curtiss. He went into the service, too, after I did. He went into the Air Force, too, and he was going to become a pilot. He got halfway through the training when the war ended. So, they threw him out. They discharged him. We both worked at Curtiss until the end, when Westinghouse took over.”
In 1946, Long went to work for his uncle, who owned an appliance store. He learned how to service appliances. In 1950, Long’s uncle passed away. He and a few others continued to operate the business until 1955. They were facing competition from “big box” stores, which were then beginning to open.
“The only thing we were doing was the service work. Three guys doing service work. That kept us going. The hours were terrible. On Sunday, someone would call, ‘My stove don’t work,’ ‘My fridge don’t work.’ So, you go and work on that.”
“I said, ‘This is no life.’ By that time, Jeffery had been born. I said, ‘That’s enough of that.’ The town wanted me full time. I went there and they said, ‘You’re going to have to back to school.’ I said, ‘Fine.’ I went to UB. I went to Niagara University. I went to Syracuse University. I got an engineering degree, so I could run the plant.”
Bud Long served as superintendent of water and wastewater for the Town of Grand Island from 1965 until he retired in 1985.
•Next: Joe Synakowski’s story.