Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Box in the Barn: Finding Dewayne Long

He was a young airman with a worn instrument case, and when he showed up to listen to the popular British dance band, instead of dancing like everybody else, he sat in front and listened. Finally, he got up the courage to ask if he could sit in with them. He took a battered trumpet from his case, and a mouthpiece from his pocket, and started to play. "We were just gob-smacked," remembers one of the band members. "He was an awesome player."

So began the young man's gig with one East Anglia's top bands. Occasionally, he would ride his bicycle twenty miles to join them for a gig. He dated a local girl, and then, as with all the American airmen who descended on Fortress Britain in the dark days of World War Two, one day he was gone, back to the States. The band missed their trumpeter, and an English girl missed her former boyfriend. The trumpet mouthpiece stayed behind, and is now in the 95th museum at Horham.

Sixty years later, 95th Bomb Group historian James Mutton was given a small cardboard box that had been found in a local barn. Inside the box, there was an 8th Air Force shoulder patch, some V-for-Victory matches, a container of aspirin, and several identification cards for one Dewayne Long. Intrigued, Mutton decided to track the young man down. Long had served in the 95th Bomb Group as a cook, and hailed from Martin, South Dakota. After sleuthing around for some time, he was able to locate Dewayne at a nursing home in Phoenix, Arizona, only a short distance from Tucson where the 95th Bomb Group was holding its annual reunion.

Dewayne made a surprise appearance at the reunion, accompanied by relatives. Frail and in a wheelchair, he is still sharp of mind.

"I never met an English person who wasn't beautiful," he remembered in a short speech at the reunion. He remains a huge devotee of the great Glenn Miller, "way ahead of his time", and told the assembled vets and their families that "War is hell. It may even be worse than hell. I don't know. But I don't want to find out".

Dewayne Long prepares to speak at the nightly fireside. Assisting him with the mike is moderator Tom Cozens, son of 95th pilot Bob Cozens.

Dewayne Long, thanks for your service, for the music you gave while in England, and for making it to the reunion.

Dewayne Long holds his trumpet mouthpiece. At left is James Mutton, the Englishman who tracked him down, holding the box; center is Englishman Alan Johnson, also a 95th BG historian; right is Long's son.


Richard Havers said...

Great piece Rob!

Les said...

Yes, Rob. Excellent!