Many Villagers are familiar with the Col. Phillip C. DeLong Marine Corps League Detachment 1267.
They know that the group is a huge believer in supporting charities and is pretty much the driving force behind Toys for Tots. But what they probably don’t know is why the detachment is named after DeLong – and more importantly, who was he?
Villager Phillip Cunliffe DeLong, who was born on July 9, 1919 and died on July 1, 2006, was a fighter pilot who spent 27½ years in the Marine Corps, retiring in 1969. He fought in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. And the Michigan native, known as a wizard with the F4U Corsair, is believed to be the only pilot to shoot down enemy planes in two different wars – WW II and Korea – with the same type of aircraft.
DeLong also carried the distinction of achieving the dream every fighter pilot strives for – becoming an ace, which is earned by shooting down five or more enemy planes. But DeLong didn’t stop there, and with 11 solo WW II kills to his name and his assistance in another takedown, the Michigan native achieved the unlikely status of double ace in 69 missions. Clearly, enemy pilots feared the sight of his Corsair coming their way – and rightly so.
DeLong then took his fighter pilot talents into the Korean War and was credited with shooting down two Yak fighters, which were the first Corsair and Marine Corps kills of the conflict.
DeLong also served as the commander of six different aviation units and ended up logging close to 200 missions before he stepped out of fighter aircraft for good. And he tallied 171 aircraft carrier landings and 5,000 flight hours.
Not surprisingly, the man who just loved to fly was highly decorated for his achievements in the sky. He earned seven Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Silver Star, a Legion of Merit and 17 air medals.
DeLong, who was memorialized by a former wingman with a refurbished Corsair carrying his name on its side, was married to wife Katie for more than 60 years. They couple loved living in the Bailey Ridge Villas in the Village of St. Charles – she says DeLong’s love for flying never went away – and they had two children, son Michael, who followed in his dad’s footsteps into the Marine Corps and retired as a lieutenant general; and daughter Katie, whose husband retired from the Army as a colonel.
The Marines Corps League Detachment that proudly carries DeLong’s name is known for giving its time to benefit others. A small sample of some of the charitable things the group has done include:
- Presented Leadership Scholarships to four Villages High School students and two Marine Corps League family members.
- Presented $1,000 scholarships to five VHS students in a ceremony at the Bacall Recreation Center.
- Delivered donations to Lake Hills School in Howey-in-the-Hills.
- Accepted a donation of 300 toys from the Baby Boomers Club and then conducted a highly successful Toys for Tots Drive.
- Presented a $1,000 check to Fruitland Park Elementary School.
- Put on a Toys for Tots golf tournament at Havana Country Club.
- Delivered a $6,160 check to Operation Helping Hand at the Haley VA Hospital in Tampa.
- Led a Camp Villages session on flag making.
- Raised money for the Hadley VA Hospital through Operation Butterfinger.
- Held a Toys for Tots drive at The Villages Polo Fields.