By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Dailiy Eagle
BAY RIDGE — Mike Long was just 18 years old when he joined the Marine Corps in the late 1950s. Today, more than 50 years later, Long is preparing to be the grand marshal of the Brooklyn Memorial Day Parade, America's oldest continually run Memorial Day march.
Long said he "was proud, but humbled" at being asked to lead Monday's parade — which kicks off at 11 a.m. on Third Avenue and 87th Street in Bay Ridge.
“I’m old enough to remember the end of World War II. I saw my uncle come home from the war. He was a Marine. From that moment on, I wanted to be a Marine. I guess he made an impression on me,” he said.
As chairman of the New York State Conservative Party, Long has for many years been a politically influencial figure. Along with his wife Eileen, he's been active in Bay Ridge civic and business affairs, and he's the former owner of Long’s Discount Wines & Liquors on Fifth Avenue.
As a youngster growing up in East New York, Long looked up in awe at military heroes returning home from World War II. When he was 18, he realized his dream, signing up for the Marines and going through boot camp at Parris Island.
“Basic training instills character in you. You learn teamwork and responsibility. You learn that if you make a mistake, it could cost your fellow Marines their lives. It makes you more well-rounded and secure,” he said.
Long was stationed in Okinawa for 15 months. He also served in the Philippines and came away from his time there with the memory of a lifetime.
“We were doing maneuvers. And maneuvers are, basically, war games. I remember we were traveling with a howitzer in a truck. For 25 miles, Filipinos crowded the roadways and stood and cheered. They were waving American flags. It was 1959 and they were still celebrating us liberating them from Japan,” Long said. “I got a tingling feeling in the back of my neck.”
“I think my service in the Marines added to my civic awareness. It certainly made me stand up for my political beliefs,” Long said.
In 1996, Long led a committee that worked to bring a replica of the Vietnam Wall to Bay Ridge. The replica was part of a traveling exhibition called “The Vietnam Wall Experience.” The wall was erected in John Paul Jones Park. Thousands of people came to see it. Many of the visitors were family members of military personnel who had been killed in the war, and they lovingly etched the names of their loved ones using pieces of paper and pencils.
In recent years, Long has been a member of the Fort Hamilton Citizens Action Committee, a group of business and civic leaders that advocates on behalf of keeping the fort open.
“I’m very proud to have been a Marine. America is a beacon of hope for the entire world,” he said. “When I march in the parade, I won’t be marching for Mike Long. I’ll be marching for the thousands upon thousands of those who served this country and those who made the supreme sacrifice.”
One of the things of which he is most proud as an American Marine is the attitude of the military and its role in the world.
“The American military is not a conquering force. We don’t go into countries and conquer them. We free nations from tyranny,” Long said.