Memorial Day is an American holiday on which those who died in military service are remembered. Sgt. Joe Lynn Delong is one of those.
Delong was born June 18, 1947 in Warren County and was a resident of Irving College. He graduated from Irving College High School in 1966. He was drafted and arrived in South Vietnam on Feb. 22, 1967.
Edwin Lewis is his nephew.
“I was in first grade when Joe was a senior at Irving College,” said Lewis. “I remember running out to the playground and him picking me up, him taking me to my grandmother’s house and dropping me off. Then, I remember him in his uniform with his buzz haircut. My sister was just a baby. She cried every time Joe held her until right at the end. We got a picture of her not crying with him holding her.”
Those memories would be some of the last for his family. Delong was captured less than two months after arriving in South Vietnam.
“Joe was a replacement,” said Lewis. “He was only over there for two months before he was captured. He got there Feb. 22 and was captured May 18. He was 19 when he got captured. He turned 20 years old in a Cambodia jungle prison camp. I’ve talked to two guys that were POWs with him. They had a tough time talking about the experience of being a prisoner of war. There’s only two of those guys still living now. There were nine of them altogether. Six of them came back and there’s only two of them living.”
SP4 Nathan B. Henry was one of those who returned.
“Nathan came here,” said Lewis. “I was a little boy so I didn’t know what was going on at that time. He and Joe made a pact together that if something happens to either of them, the other would go tell their family. Nathan made it back so he came here and told the family what happened. It was rough on him to do that, I’m sure, but they made a pact and Joe didn’t come back.”
Delong was a rifleman serving as a machine gunner on a company-size, search-and-destroy operation just east of the South Vietnamese/Cambodian border. As Delong’s company moved through a forested area laced with groves of bamboo and scattered grass-covered clearings approximately five miles north of the Ia Drang Valley, Pleiku Province, South Vietnam, it came under fire from a communist force.
Delong'’s platoon was cut off and overrun. He was initially reported as missing in action. However, shortly thereafter, captured VC soldiers reported Delong had been captured and his status was immediately upgraded to prisoner of war.
On Nov. 6, 1967, Delong attempted to escape along with four members of his platoon. Delong clubbed a guard and took his rifle way from him. The POWs moved through to jungle in an east to southeasterly direction. Several hours after they escaped, other prisoners heard shots in the distance. Within a short period of time, all but Delong were returned to the prison camp.
On Nov. 8, VC officers showed the prisoners blood-stained clothing that was positively identified as belonging to Delong. The VC told them he was dead and if they tried to escape again, they would end up the same way. That date was Nov. 8, 1967.
Delong’s remains have never been recovered.