Ralph Long dropped out of school when he was 16 years old to find work during the Great Depression. He later joined the army at the age of 21 to fight in WWII.
The former Army sergeant would have graduated from Trevorton High School in 1940. Now, after almost 80 years, Long has a high school diploma from Line Mountain School District.
“I feel wonderful,” said Long during a ceremony at Serenity Gardens outside Kulpmont, his home for the last eight years. “I never expected this would ever happen.”
Operation Recognition allows Pennsylvania schools to award diplomas to veterans who had their high school careers cut short by military service in WWII, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War. Melissa Blair, representing state Rep. Kurt Masser, R-107, presented a citation to Long, and Line Mountain Superintendent Dave Campbell presented the diploma.
Long’s son, Ralph Long, Jr., was emotional during the ceremony. “I’m very proud,” Long Jr. said. “I looked into getting his diploma because I knew he didn’t get it. He saw a lot of action.”
Long worked in the coal mines after leaving school. He was inducted into the military in October of 1942 and served with the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion in the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater, and was later injured in October 1943, and then again in January 1944.
On January 26, 1944, the British ship LST-422 was sunk off the Italian coast after it drifted into a German mine, killing 450 men. Long was one of the survivors.
He was honorably discharged in October 1945. Over the course of his military career, Long received the Purple Heart with one oak cluster, the Good Conduct Medal, six Bronze Stars, and one Bronze arrowhead. According to his son, Long senior rarely talked about his time in the service.
Blair also provided Long with a U.S. flag that flew in his honor over the Harrisburg State Capitol Building on June 20.
Campbell called the diploma “long overdue.”
“What an honor and privilege to give this to a fine young man,” he said.
The presentation was arranged with help from Belinda Albright, the director of the Northumberland County Veterans Affairs, and Pat Gorman, a county veteran service officer.
Long is the last surviving of 12 siblings. Besides Long Jr., he has a daughter, Debra Dressler, and three grandchildren.