Area Marine lectures in Portales

Larry Long of Clovis, who is home between tours in Iraq with the Marines, fields a question from the audience during a visit Thursday afternoon to Valencia Elementary School in Portales. (Freedom Newspapers: Kevin Wilson)

By Tony Parra: Freedom Newspapers

PORTALES — Valencia Elementary fifth-graders received a surprise on Thursday afternoon when one of their letter-buddies serving in Iraq greeted them in the school gym.

Marine Staff Sgt. Larry Long answered questions from a group of fifth-graders eager to hear about his experiences in Iraq. Long, a 1991 Clovis High School graduate, answered as many questions as he could.

Valencia Elementary fifth-grade teacher Danna Smith, the younger sister of Long, said students began writing the letters in August. Each was assigned a pen pal for the 58 members of her brother’s platoon.

“We encountered a lot of difficult times,” Long told the students. “You miss your family while you’re there. The letters meant a great deal to us. They made you feel better. You don’t know how much those letters meant to us (U.S. Marines).”

Valencia students asked Long about his platoon, the sights, food and families in Iraq. Long, who will return to Iraq in January, told them all his platoon members returned safely to the United States.

“I was afraid for him,” said Megan Combs, who was Long’s pen pal. “I was just glad he came. I was wishing he would come.”

Smith said after sending letters to the troops, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning took a whole new meaning for the students.

“They (students) loved the idea,” Smith said. “Every letter they received, they kept in a binder. Those kids amazed me. They would receive money for snacks (from their parents) and they would use it to pay for the postage of the boxes sent to the troops. I was impressed.”

There was one question Long could not answer — whether he had killed anybody. He said it was classified information.
For Dylan McKay, his question was, “When are you guys coming back for good?”

“You’ve got bullies who would like to see the disruption of Iraq,” Long said. “In my opinion, we’ll probably be there for two more years to help the country stand on its feet.”

McKay added a thought on Long’s service to the United States.

“He really supported our country,” McKay said. “I’m glad he supported us and it was nice to see him.”