"I grew up, really fast," says Jay Long. "I was 17, and all of a sudden I was an old 17-year-old. You become self-sufficient and self-assured."
Long is speaking about a time, 68 years ago, when he was a young man serving on a heavy cruiser during World War II.
John Francis Long, called "Jay," was born on July 3, 1927 to Thomas Henry "Harry" and Mary Grace Long.
"I was one day short of being a firecracker," Long says. "I was born in Tyrone, but I came to Lock Haven when I was one. My dad got a job at the paper mill."
He attended high school at Immaculate Conception. While in high school, he also worked at the dye works, then American Aniline Products Inc.
"I would have graduated in June, 1945," Long says. "But I enlisted in December of 44. I was 17."
Long's parents may not have been thrilled about his enlistment, but they understood that it was a wise move.
"They signed for me," he says. "They probably weren't happy about it, but if I volunteered I could at least pick which service to go into. If I didn't enlist, I'd automatically be sent to the Army after I turned 18."
"I talked to the principal before I left," Long explains. "My grades were good enough that I would get a diploma sent to me when I got back."
Long was sent to Bainbridge, Md., for boot camp, then on to Norfolk, Va., and finally Newport, R.I.
"I was assigned to the USS Albany," he explains. "But there was a problem. The Albany wasn't done being built yet. So they put me on her sister ship, the USS Macon."
"My job was to coordinate the main guns on the ship," Long says. "My battle station was right under the radar dish. They would figure out the angles for the guns then send the information up to me. I had dials that I had to match up to coordinate them. When those guns fired, you heard 'buzz, buzz, bang!'."
"I was the lowest ranked man at the highest point in the ship," Long laughs. "And the only way to get there was through the bridge. Seaman didn't go on the bridge, but I had to. One day the captain was there and he stopped me. He asked me 'if we get hit, how are you going to get out of there?' I told him I'd have to wait a couple of days for the ship to sink before I could jump into the water. He said 'good answer,' and sent me on my way."
Long and the Macon sailed for the North Atlantic as part of a convoy. By the time they returned to Newport, the war in Europe was over.
"We were sent down to Norfolk to re-provision," he says. "We were supposed to sail for Japan, through the Panama Canal. But by that time, I had too many points to go back to sea, but not enough to get out. I ended up working at an office building, the Navy Annex, right across the street from Arlington National Cemetery."
Long was discharged two months later, at Bainbridge Md., in July 1946. He was a Seaman 2nd class at the time of his discharge. He returned home to Lock Haven and went back to work at American Aniline. He stayed there for a year before leaving for college at St. Francis University in Loretta, Pa. In 1951, he earned his degree in Business Administration.
"Last July, we had our 60th class reunion," Long says. "I roomed with my original roommate from 1947."
After graduating, Long returned to Lock Haven and took a job with Baltimore Life Insurance. He also began working locally as an accountant.
"In 1955, I went to work for the Lock Haven Auto Company, which was a Buick dealership and a Gulf Oil distributor," Long says. "There were also three realty companies as part of the group."
Long worked there 22 years, until 1977. He left and went to work as a controller at the Lipez warehouse. He stayed there for two years until the warehouse closed down and he left for work in the Sweeney Industrial Park in McElhattan.
"I worked as an office manager there for a while," says Long. "Then I got back into the automobile business in State College. I retired from there."
Long continued to run a small accounting business on the side however, and still does some accounting today. He also worked 17 years at the auto-auction.
"I agreed to help out, until they 'got started'," he laughs. "It became a running joke every year, me asking if they were 'started' yet. I worked there enough to save money for a trip each year."
Long married in 1952. He and his wife, Mary Theresa, or "Mary T", took a total of seven cruises. One of them was through the Panama Canal.
"That was interesting," says Long. "Usually ships didn't stop in Panama, but we did. We had an opportunity to see the Locks from outside. When we left the ship, we had to climb up this long flight of stairs. Halfway up the stairs was the governor of Panama, who met each of us."
Mary Theresa Long passed away last year.
"We had 59 years," says Long. "I always said the 'T' stood for 'Terrific'."
The couple had four children, two boys and two girls. They also have six grandchildren. Long is proud of all of them and the success they've had.
One son sponsored a U.S. Flag to be flown for a day over the Navy Memorial in Washington D.C. in recognition of Long. The flag was presented to Long afterwards.
Long is a lifetime member of the E.L.K.S of Lock Haven. He is a former secretary of the organization and has been involved since 1952. As a hobby he enjoys wood working and has created a number of doll houses, one of which he displays at his home. He has also restored some antiques, which he also displays.
The single 'antique' he's most proud of is just a simple square of smooth wood. The square cut is Douglas Fur. He explains its significance.
"I'm a plank owner," he says. "The plank is from the USS Macon."
When a ship is decommissioned, sections of the deck are cut up and sent to the original crew who sailed her when she was commissioned. This is not an official Navy tradition, but it is commonplace among sailors.
The plank sits in Long's office, right beside the flag that flew over the Navy Memorial. Hanging on the wall beside them is Long's Hometown Heroes Banner from the first round of the program.
"I don't think I did anything special," he says.
They are humble and sincere words. But to have served his nation voluntarily makes him special in the eyes of his community regardless.