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War bride, husband lived the American Dream in Kingman

Alice Longwell, 91, sits at her kitchen table surrounded by a lifetime’s worth of photographs and souvenirs.<BR>DOUG McMURDO/Miner

Alice Longwell, 91, sits at her kitchen table surrounded by a lifetime’s worth of photographs and souvenirs.<BR>DOUG McMURDO/Miner

KINGMAN - With her platoon sergeant husband battling his way through France with General George Patton's Third Army in 1944, longtime Kingmanite Alice Longwell helped fight the war from Washington, D.C., where she worked for the War Department's Counter-Intelligence Corps.

Longwell, 91, moved to Kingman in the late 1960s and the family opened Longwell Motors, a Volkswagen dealership.

She survived the Great Depression, raised five children and spent 10 years working in the Mohave County Treasurer's Office. She worked a few more as an escrow officer with Lawyers Title.

The Longwells bought a home on Chicago Avenue, when there was nothing else around in a part of the city the locals dubbed Hilltop.

Stockton Hill Road at the time was a dirt track known as Hall Road. Everything was downtown and downtown was vibrant. Kingman was home to less than 8,000 souls and Longwell Volkswagen, the dealership Alice Longwell's husband started in 1967, was an immediate success. Life was grand for the Longwell family.

Spy games

Her professional life, however, was never as grand for Alice Longwell than it was during World War II. She married fellow Iowan Forrest "Bud" Longwell in 1942 and had her first child, the doomed Cheryl, while he served in the famed 9th Infantry Division and she entered the shadowy world of spies.

Longwell worked directly for Gen. James Alexander Ulio, the adjutant general of the Army throughout WWII.

"I worked in Strategic Services," said Longwell. "Everything was top-secret, secret, confidential or restricted. This was during the war, and there were a lot of secrets in the government."

Longwell said her department spent the war recruiting undercover spies culled from the "best of the best" of the Selective Service draft lists.

"We were particularly interested in men who could speak a foreign language," she said, "But really, we'd take anyone with certain skills."

Some of them, she said, had their exploits published in newspapers. Some of them were killed in the line of duty and some of them were taken prisoner, but they all are heroes to Longwell, heroes who took their secrets to the grave. She apparently intends to follow in their footsteps.

While those secrets were declassified nearly 20 years ago, Longwell refused to give up a single one of them.

"They protected us," she said. "They never let us know what the whole mission was, just bits and pieces, so I can't help you," she said, with a look that suggested the subject was closed and for the reporter to move on to something else.

Then, with a sly smile and a small tilt of her head, she revealed what her time in D.C. meant to her.

"That was the most exciting job I ever had."

Sgt. Longwell

Bud tried to enlist in the Navy right after high school graduation as it was one way to survive the Great Depression in 1938. He was rejected due to flat feet, but the Army didn't much care what shape Bud Longwell's feet were in.

He was drafted and assigned to the 9th Infantry Division, which was part of the "Super Sixth" Armored Division, part of Patton's Third Army and a division the legendary general once said was one of the two best under his command.

The 9th Infantry trained for the June 6, 1944 invasion of Normandy known as D-Day, but Longwell and his fellow soldiers didn't land at Utah Beach until June 10, four days later.

"They weren't there for the invasion," said Alice. "There was still fighting going on, but he wasn't there for the massacre."

Before that they fought in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, France and, ultimately, Germany, where the soldiers with the Sixth liberated about 21,000 Jews and other prisoners from the Buchenwald concentration camps about a month before Germany surrendered.

The 9th Infantry fought deep into the forest during the Battle of the Bulge, the last major fight the Germans put up before allied forces broke through into Germany.

French amis

Before they made it to Germany, the Third Army's mad dash across France screeched to a stop in late summer 1944.

It wasn't German resistance that bogged down the Army. A lack of gasoline grounded the historic march and allowed the Germans to send in reinforcements and supplies, ensuring the war would last a while longer.

"General Patton told his men to seek shelter with the native French people, if they'd have them, and that's what Bud did," said Longwell.

"The Gaillards treated him very well," she said. "They treated him special. They called him Baby because he had a pair of booties on his helmet. They were Cheryl's and I sent them to him. They were nice because they knew we were there to free them."

Fast-forward more than four decades.

The Longwells have sold the dealership. They are retired and Bud is still heavily involved in Kingman softball. Alice is a volunteer all over the city for numerous nonprofit organizations.

And they travel. A lot.

One of their annual trips was always a reunion of the Sixth Armored Division. They were four-day events that were held in a new city every year.

One year, the reunion was in France and Bud wanted to find the Gaillards, the family that took him in back in 1944 when a lack of gas brought the fight to a standstill.

He taught their four children American games and sang American songs to them.

"I told him, 'You won't find them.' It's been 40 years."

Bud rented a car and told Alice he would at least show her where the family lived.

They pulled into the small town just as church ended. Bud and Alice showed everybody they could the aged photo of him and the Gaillard children.

"He was armed with a photograph and not a Springfield rifle this time," said Alice. "One guy pointed at the oldest girl and we had to follow him. He had to stop at every tavern there was along the way, but he did bring us to her.

"She was in Paris. She recognized him. She called him Baby."

Alice Longwell and the Gaillards exchange letters to this day. One of them came to spend several weeks with the Longwells, who took him all over the West.

Love story

While Bud and Alice enjoyed 57 years of marriage and their love story is one for the ages, they almost didn't get married.

Alice graduated from high school in Waterloo, Iowa in 1940. She immediately moved to Rockford, Ill., a place rumored to have highly desired Depression-era jobs.

Bud and his friends across the state in Davenport, Iowa also heard of the jobs in Illinois.

The Iowans and many others from across the Midwest were hired as the work involved the construction of a military installation. Bud and Alice started dating and planned to marry, but then the Army came calling.

"The Sixth Armored Division was stationed in Arkansas and Bud wrote me a letter. He said, 'If we're going to get married you better come to Arkansas.'

"Well, I hadn't seen him in almost a year and didn't know if I wanted to get married anymore."

At the time, Alice was already with the War Department in the nation's capital, but her heart convinced her Bud was the guy she would spend her life with, so she traveled to Arkansas and married him two days before the division was sent to California to train for the North Africa invasion.

"I got pregnant, he went to war and I went home to Waterloo."

Family ties

Cheryl died at 20 from complications caused by cystic fibrosis, a disease that attacks primarily the lungs.

While the Longwells spent years trying to get the always-sickly Cheryl the help she obviously needed, doctors were unable to properly diagnose her until they performed her autopsy.

A son, Michael, died of the same disease in 1986 at age 31 and a grandson succumbed to a brain tumor.

Her beloved Bud passed away in 1998, but she takes solace in the knowledge his memory lives on in Seligman, where the American Legion post bears his name.

Alice tells of her losses in the manner all people do who have endured similar ordeals. No parent, she says, should have to outlive her children.

But Alice hasn't let the great sadness of her life define her. Told by a reporter to gather family photographs prior to the interview, Alice does her duty.

She set dozens of framed photographs around her kitchen table and on a countertop. She gathered photo albums, both new and ancient, and newspaper articles and the small souvenirs that make up a rich life.

Like so many of her generation, though, Alice talks about herself only when prodded. But she talks about her family with energy and a love that only a matriarch can possess.

"I've seen Kingman grow," she said. "I'm happy I moved here and raised my family here."

And yes, at 91 Alice Longwell still volunteers in the community.

"I stay busy," she said. "I want to help. I've always wanted to help, so I will as long as I can."

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