When Army Sgt. Charles Richard Long offered to stay behind and cover his fellow soldiers’ backs as they escaped a massive enemy onslaught in Korea, he likely knew it would be his last stand. He stayed put anyway, serving with dignity until he couldn’t anymore. That sacrifice and valor earned him the Medal of Honor.
Long was born Dec. 10, 1923, in Kansas City, Missouri, to parents Fritz and Lois Long. He, his older brother, Robert, and his younger sister, Edith, all grew up nearby in Independence. Long went by his middle name, but immediate family called him Buddy.
Growing up, Long did what he could to help his family make ends meet. He worked as a paperboy for the Kansas City Star newspaper and sold soda at a bus station. After graduating from Northeast High School in 1941, he went to work for the Fairmount Inter-City News before being drafted into the Army in 1943.
Long served in Europe during the winter of 1944-1945, including during the bloody Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. He was an infantryman with the 745th Tank Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, and received a Bronze Star for valor for helping the division cross the Rhine River in Germany.
After World War II, Long was discharged. He wanted to rejoin on active duty as an escort for fallen service members, but he was told he couldn’t because he had high blood pressure. Instead, he remained in the Army as a reservist.
At some point, he married his girlfriend, Evelyn Tipton, and helped her raise her two daughters, Patricia and Sondra. Long returned to work at the Inter-City News and was also involved in church groups, the Boy Scouts and the YMCA in his free time.
About three months after war broke out in Korea in 1950, Long was called back to active duty and sent to the embattled peninsula to serve with Company M of the 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.
By Feb. 12, 1951, his unit was in the area of Hoeng-Song when six enemy divisions launched an unexpected offensive, overwhelming South Korean forces and U.S. support troops. Company M had set up a defensive perimeter on Hill 300 when the attack came at about 3 a.m. Enemy forces greatly outnumbered them, so they were ordered to withdraw.
Long, who was a forward observer for the mortar platoon, volunteered to stay behind to cover his fleeing comrades. While maintaining radio contact with his platoon, he calmly directed mortar fire on the enemy while using his carbine and grenades to push the attackers back.
Eventually, Long was wounded and surrounded. According to a Department of Veterans Affairs account, when Long ran out of ammo, he made one final call to his platoon, asking them to fire 40 pounds of explosives on the enemy, including on his own position. The 27-year-old knowingly gave his life to allow as many of his fellow soldiers to get clear of the chaos as possible.
The lopsided battle at Hoeng-Song was one of the largest concentrations of American deaths during the Korean War. However, Long’s actions halted the onslaught and enabled his company to withdraw, reorganize and counterattack, eventually regaining Hill 300.
For his sacrifice, Long’s widow accepted the Medal of Honor on his behalf from Defense Secretary Robert Lovett during a Pentagon ceremony on Jan. 16, 1952. Nine other soldiers also received posthumous honors that day.
Long is buried in Mount Washington Cemetery in his hometown, Independence, which also happens to be the home of President Harry S. Truman and the Truman Presidential Library, which is where Long’s medal is on display in a permanent exhibit.
The young Missourian’s sacrifice has not been forgotten. The state’s Army Reserve center and a bridge in Independence are named in his honor, as is a display at the Truman Memorial Building, not far from the Truman Library.
Camp Long in Wonju, South Korea, honored him before it closed in 2010. Long Road on Camp Humphreys in South Korea also bears his name.
This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.