Otis M. 'Jim' Long

Navy veteran who served in both the Atlantic and Pacific was recalled to active duty during the Korean War

  • Otis M. Long
Otis M. Long
September 23, 2014|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | The Baltimore Sun

Otis M. "Jim" Long, a retired Maryland state trooper who survived the sinking of his aircraft carrier during World War II, died Thursday at Harbor Hospital of complications from a fall. He was 87.

The son of Nathaniel O. Long and Vera M. Long, Otis Melrose Long, who was known as Jim, was born in Birmingham, Ala., and raised in Richmond, Va.

He was a student at John Marshall High School in Richmond, when he withdrew his senior year to enlist in the Navy. He later earned his General Education Development diploma.

He was 15, and had his mother sign papers to verify that he was 17 years old so he could enlist in the Navy in 1942.

After graduating from aerial gunners school in Pensacola, Fla., Mr. Long was assigned to a patrol bomber flying boat squadron in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he flew aboard Martin PBM Mariner, as a tail gunner on patrols along the Gulf Coast looking for enemy vessels. The squadron was later transferred to Key West, Fla.

Mr. Long attended Aviation Ordnance School in Jacksonville, Fla., and after graduating he was promoted to aviation ordnance man third class, and assigned to the USS Block Island, CVE 21, an escort carrier.

The USS Block Island was part of a task force whose mission was to locate and sink German U-boats operating in the Atlantic.

Mr. Long had completed two trips aboard the Block Island when on May 29, 1944, while the carrier was steaming off the Canary Islands, U-boat 549 successfully fired three torpedoes into the vessel.

Mr. Long and several shipmates were playing pinochle when the ship was attacked around 8 p.m..

"Prior to this sinking, the Block Island was credited with sinking 11 enemy subs," he wrote in an unpublished biographical monograph that includes an account of the attack.

Mr. Long jumped about 80 feet into the sea from the carrier's flight deck.

"The line going down to the water was too long as the ship was sinking and my life preserver failed to blow up," he wrote. "While in the water for 2 hours, I went under the surface and pulled a fellow sailor who was about to drown and towed him to a life raft."

After two destroyers, the USS Eugene E. Elmore and the Ahrens, sank the U-549, they returned to the scene of the sinking to pick up its crew of 900, Long wrote.

"I swam with no life preserver for 3 hours and was one of the last of the crew to be picked up," wrote Mr. Long.

"The North Atlantic was cold and they were swimming in oil," said his wife of 53 years, the former Charlotte V. Merson. "One of his shipmates yelled, 'Otis, look at my hand.' He was still holding the cards from the card game."

The Block Island received two battle stars for its action on the North Atlantic, and miraculously, only six crewmen lost their lives in the sinking.

The ship's crew were granted 30 day survivors leave, and later in 1944, he joined his fellow shipmates aboard a new USS Block Island, originally launched as the Sunset Bay, and renamed in honor of the lost vessel.

After making one voyage aboard the new Block Island, he was sent to Twenty Nine Palms, Calif., where he worked as part of a team that was perfecting the Tiny Tim, an air to ground rocket, that was used by the Navy near the end of the war.

Mr. Long was promoted to aviation ordnance man second class and was serving in Adak, Alaska, when the war ended.

He returned to Baltimore and went to work for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., and in 1950, was recalled to active duty and assigned to the USS Salisbury Sound, a seaplane tender stationed in the Pacific.

Mr. Long was again promoted to aviation ordnance man first class, the rank he held when discharged in 1951.

Mr. Long enjoyed lecturing about his wartime exploits at churches and schools, family members said.

After returning to Baltimore, he joined the Maryland State Police, where he was assigned to the Waterloo Barracks and patrolled Anne Arundel County in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mr. Long was later assigned to the Rockville, Waldorf and Randallstown barracks before he transferred to the automotive inspection division. He retired in 1976 with the rank of sergeant.

In the 1960s, he and his brother, Thomas B. Long Sr., co-founded the Golden Triangle Officials Association. Mr. Long "officiated five different sports from Little League to college games," he wrote in the monograph.

Mr. Long who had retired from officiating in the 1990s, had also coached both basketball and basketball for Linthicum-Ferndale Recreation Council. He coached high school volleyball at Northeast High School for three years in the 1990s.

He also had been a judge in Anne Arundel County Teen Court.

Mr. Long was an avid golfer and pool player, and "enjoyed all sports," he wrote.

He was an active member of the USS Block Island Association, American Legion Post 109, Veterans of Underage Military Service, Brooklyn Boys Club, and the Pascal Senior Center.

"When we found out about the Block Island Association, we started going to the reunions where he and his shipmates told stories all day long about their ship and the war," said Mrs. Long.

Mr. Long was a member of Melville Chapel United Methodist Church.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Gary L. Kaufman Funeral Home, 7250 Washington Blvd., Elkridge.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Long is survived by a son, David B. Long of Fenwick Island, Del.; two daughters, Sandra B. Love of Severn and Linda J. Sienkiewicz of Brooklyn Park; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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