Lawrence Oral Longley was born on March 4, 1895, in James County, Tennessee, the son of Lewis Houston Longley and Mary Jones Longley. He had many siblings, including brothers, Iliff and Lewis and sisters, Mabel, Myrtle, Olive, and Minnie. The son of a farmer, Longley himself worked as a farmer in James County, which later became part of Hamilton County, Tennessee. He enlisted for service as Seaman, 2nd Class Longley in Nashville, Tennessee on May 2, 1917, and served aboard the armored cruiser USS South Dakota during World War I. Seaman Longley died of gas poisoning on March 21, 1918, and was buried at Plowman Cemetery, in Apison, Hamilton County, Tennessee.

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