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September 26, 2012

Reaching 100: Clinton Township centenarian recognized for WWII service

By Nico Rubello
C & G Staff Writer

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Reaching 100: Clinton Township centenarian recognized for WWII service
Longin Gabis, 100, and son Dave Gabis pose with Longin’s World War II campaign medal and United Auto Workers veterans medal.

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Gathered just off the entrance of a bustling restaurant, Longin Gabis’ extended family waited for their guest of honor to arrive.

Longin’s son, Dave Gabis,  had told his father that they were going to Boston’s Restaurant and Sports Bar, as they usually do for the free birthday dessert.

This Sept. 19 was special, though. This year, Longin Gabis was turning 100.

As they waited, family and friends flipped through old photo albums filled with black-and-whites of Longin — who some affectionately called “Longy” — and his two younger brothers, Henry and Richard, both of whom have passed away. Some marveled at the fact that Longin was still able to walk, even drive, and go up and down the stairs in his two-story condo.

“He’s pretty independent for a 100-year-old guy,” Dave Gabis.

Finally, the moment arrived, and Longin and Dave walked through the restaurant’s entrance. Longin turned the corner, and spotting his family, he froze in his tracks as a chorus of “Happy Birthday” broke out.

After a round of greetings and hugs, the surprises continued.

Center Line VFW Post Commander Bob Slavko presented him with two official plaques of tribute from the state of Michigan to recognize his centennial birthday. Both were signed by Gov. Rick Snyder and local state lawmakers, state Sen. Steve Bieda and state Rep. Lesia Liss.

And, for his World War II service, he received a special medal for being a United Auto Workers veteran, along with his campaign medal, newly equipped with five bronze stars to signify each of the five campaigns in which he served: Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe.

“He did say every once in awhile, ‘Hey, I didn’t get my five bronze stars,’” said Dave Gabis, who coordinated the surprises. “You want to try to get him the recognition he deserves. … It’s complete now.”

At the age of 28, Longin was drafted into World War II in early 1941. What was supposed to be a one-year commitment turned to four-and-a-half years of service after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. After training, he moved through campaigns in France, Belgium and Germany.

Having worked at Chrysler before the war, Longin repaired military vehicles and, later, revolvers as part of the Army’s ordnance division. He was never too far from danger, having his fair share of close calls.

His two younger brothers also served during World War II, and both also lived through the war. Years later, Longin and Henry would recall sipping confiscated German beer together after meeting up in a German town. “That really hit the spot,” Longin remembered.

In October 1945, Longin was honorably discharged from the 894th Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Company and resumed his job at Chrysler. He operated the drill press before moving on to work as a line inspector. He retired in 1975.

Still, living to 100 inevitably means having to watch loved ones go first. His wife, Gloria, passed away in 2004 after 47 years of marriage.

Henry and Richard, both of who lived into their 90s, died respectively in 2008 and 2011, and their foster sister, Jennie Kachuck, passed in 2002.

Longin’s niece, Margaret Gabis, knows her Uncle Longy as a man of intense character, but also a constant jokester.

Ask him what the secret to longevity is, for instance, and he’ll jokingly credit the fact that he was breastfed as a baby. “We didn’t have formula in 1912, so we had to be breastfed,” he deadpanned.

Dave Gabis has a more serious theory: Longin’s longtime enthusiasm for sports of all kinds, especially his interest Detroit and University of Michigan sports, keep him moving forward from one season to the next. His sports experiences include everything from attending the infamous Game 7 of the 1934 World Series at Navin Field to seeing Justin Verlander pitch a no-hitter at Comerica Park.

Nowadays, depending on the season, you’ll find Longin most days watching U-M or Detroit teams from the comfort of his Clinton Township condo. He hardly ever misses a game.

“Tigers can be losing 7-1; it’s the eighth inning; and he’s watching, finishing it out,” said Dave Gabis. “If Michigan football is on, or basketball, he probably won’t plan to go anywhere.”

While attending what was then Eastern High School in Detroit, Longin placed as one of the best cross-country runners in the city. Afterward, he turned down a cross-country scholarship to Eastern Michigan University in favor of staying home to help his widowed mother, Adolphina.

Adolphina raised Longin and his brothers to have strong morals, said Margaret Gabis. “He’s the most trustworthy man I’ve ever met,” she added.

Today, Longin still stays active, visiting the same gym he’s been going to for the past 20 years to do water calisthenics in the pool. When Dave Gabis signed Longin up two decades ago, the manager laughed at the thought of buying an 80-year-old man a lifetime gym membership.

The gym has changed ownership twice since then, and that manager is long gone.

“I’m real proud of my dad. He’s really like my best friend,” Dave said. “There’s no one I’d rather watch (sports) with. We try to do things together as much as possible.”

To see more photos from Gabis’ 100 years, visit the Longin Gabis Centennial page on Facebook.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Nico Rubello at nrubello@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1118.