The son of a WWI veteran, Donald Long was born in 1921 in St. Cloud, Minnesota. During the Great Depression, he worked for the CCCs and attended radio school in a small room in his town. He decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy as the country grappled with massive unemployment and job opportunities were few.
He attended boot camp in 1941 and his hope was to join aviation in some form. He was sent to Hawaii shortly after completing radio school and was assigned to a patrol squadron out of Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii as Radioman 2nd class. Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station operated as a PBY seaplane base during WWII. Don spent the weeks leading up to the attack on Oahu conducting patrols around the island. However, the base didn’t have enough planes to properly patrol the skies around the island as many of the planes had been diverted to the European effort.
On the morning of December 7, he was being relieved of “watch” and headed out to his plane in the middle of Kaneohe Bay to conduct blinker practice with the tower around 7:45 in the morning. A few minutes later, he heard planes approaching and assumed it was the Army Air Corps performing Sunday maneuvers. Then, the bombing began. Don watched from the middle of the bay as the bombs dropped on the base. Fighter planes then approached and strafed the planes in the water, including his. He climbed through the plane to obtain a life jacket and noticed the plane had been hit when water began to flood in. Shortly after, the plane burst into flames and he jumped into the water. He swam through the oily burning water to a buoy and watched the rest of the attack take place on the island.
As he came ashore after the second wave had ceased, he was covered with oil and had suffered burns on his hands and arms. Medics shipped him to sick bay where his wounds were tended and he was released back to duty.
Don Long continued with patrol squadrons and served in the South Pacific throughout the war. He earned his wings in 1943 and rose through the ranks from Apprentice Seaman to Commander by the time his naval career came to a close in the 1960s.
Don attended the 78th anniversary on the attack of Pearl Harbor with the Best Defense Foundation in 2018. When he returned to his old base at Kaneohe Bay, which is now a Marine Corps Air Station, he stated, “I feel like a kid again!” In 2021, he will turn 100 years old and we look forward to meeting with him again to honor the sacrifice he made on December 7, 1941 and throughout his naval career.