Skip to comments.Last Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Guadalcanal USMC Colonel Mitchell Paige has died
Posted on 11/16/2003 8:15:05 PM PST by ErnBatavia
I probably blew the format for starting a thread...and didn't see posted elsewhere.
A true hero has moved on. My 56 year old self just went outside, faced the sky, and offered the best salute I've snapped in 35 years.
Rest In Peace, Mitch....proud and honored to have had your aquaintance.
He signed mine (which was tough to get)...and he gave me a hard time when I called it a "doll" - I was quickly corrected.
PltSgt MITCHELL PAIGE
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to
PLATOON SERGEANT MITCHELL PAIGE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
for service as set forth in the following
"For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, in combat against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands Area on October 26, 1942. When the enemy broke through the line directly in front of his position, Platoon Sergeant Paige, commanding a machine-gun section with fearless determination, continued to direct the fire of his gunners until all his men were either killed or wounded. Alone, against the deadly hail of Japanese shells, he manned his gun, and when it was destroyed, took over another, moving from gun to gun, never ceasing his withering fire against the advancing hordes until reinforcements finally arrived. Then, forming a new line, he dauntlessly and aggressively led a bayonet charge, driving the enemy back and preventing a break through in our lines. His great personal valor and unyielding devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
/S/ FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Yes...and I'm heartbroken; I didn't even hear this on the news, just found out by cruising the web.
?He lived here in La Quinta, California - and through my mother/Marilyn Paige's DAR connection, I was floored to get to meet him and shoot the breeze on occasion.
I'm just wigged out with shock right now...He was a fabulous guy
'Autumn, 1942: It came down to one Marine, and one ship'
I caught a program on KQED (PBS) the other night called American Valor, a 1 1/2 hour program that looked at the Cingressional Medal of Honor, its origins and such. There were a number of honorees interviewed and their stories retold. Mitchell Paige was one of those interviewed. Excellent program, very touching and revealing of human nature; foibles, frailties and all.
Marine Colonel Mitchell Paige, of Redwood City, California, won the nation's highest decoration during the campaign for Guadalcanal in October, 1942, when he made a desperate lone stand against enemy Japanese after they had broken through the lines and killed or wounded all of the Marines in his machine gun section.
Colonel Paige, (then a platoon sergeant) fired his machine gun until it was destroyed, then moved from gun to gun, keeping up a withering fire until he finally received reinforcements. He later led a bayonet charge that drove the Japanese back and prevented a breakthrough in our lines.
The Marine Corps' World War II Commandant, General Alexander A. Vandegrift presented the Medal of Honor to Colonel Paige at Melbourne, Australia, in the Spring of 1943.
Colonel Paige was born on August 31, 1918, at Charleroi, Pennsylvania, and graduated in 1936 from McKeesport High School at McKeesport, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Marine Corps on September 1, 1936, at Baltimore, Maryland.
Completing his "boot camp" training at Parris Island, South Carolina, in November, 1936, he was transferred to Quantico, Virginia. Later he served aboard the USS Wyoming as a gunner and took part in maneuvers via Panama to San Clemente Island off the coast of California.
In February, 1937, he was transferred to Mare Island Navy Yard for guard duty, and two months later was ordered to Cavite in the Philippine Islands. While on Cavite he became a member of the All-Navy-Marine baseball team which gained prominence throughout the island and the orient. He served in China from October, 1938 to September, 1939. During his tour he guarded American property during the famous Tientsin flood.
He left North China and returned to the U.S. in April, 1940, for guard duty at the Brooklyn and Philadelphia Navy Yards. In September, 1940, he rejoined the 5th Marines, at Quantico, Virginia, and the following month participated in maneuvers at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Culebra, Puerto Rico. In March, 1941, he was transferred back to the States and ordered to New River, North Carolina, to help construct and prepare a new training base for Marines which later became Camp Lejeune.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Paige was once more sent overseas with the 7th Marines and landed at Apia, British Samoa. From Samoa the 7th Marines went to Guadalcanal, landing in September of 1942. He remained there until January, 1943, when he went to Melbourne, Australia with the 1st Marine Division. While on Guadalcanal he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the field on December 19, 1942. In June 1943, he was promoted to first lieutenant.
In September, 1943, he left with the 1st Marine Division for New Guinea where they joined the 6th Army for the attack on Cape Gloucester, New Britain, on December 26, 1943.
In May 1944, the Division left Cape Gloucester for a rest area in the Russell Islands, Pavuvu. In July, 1944, Major Paige was sent back to the States and assigned duty at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
In June, 1945, he became Tactical Training Officer at Camp Matthews, California, and the following September, was sent to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot as a recruit training officer.
Captain Paige was placed on inactive duty in May 1946, returning to active duty again in July 1950, and was assigned duty at Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, California.
He was later transferred to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at San Diego, California, as Plans and Operations Officer of the 2d Recruit Training Battalion. At this time he also went on a special assignment as Plans and Training Officer in charge of setting up a PLC training program for the Special Training Company. He was promoted to the rank of major on January 1, 1951.
In October 1951, Major Paige became Executive Officer of the 2d Recruit Training Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California, until October 1952, when he was transferred to the 4th Special Junior Course, Marine Corps Educational Center, Company B, Headquarters Battalion, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia. He attended school there until May 1953, then served as Division Recruiting Officer, 2d Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, until February 1954.
Major Paige was next assigned to Sub-Unit #2, Headquarters Company, Headquarters Battalion, 3d Marine Division, San Francisco, California, serving as Officer in Charge, Division Noncommissioned Officers School, 3d Marine Division, until April 1955. During this period he also served briefly as Assistant Officer in Charge of Sub-Unit #1.
From there he served as Battalion Executive Officer and later Commanding Officer of the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, from April 1955 until August 1955 when he reported to the 12th Marine Corps Reserve and Recruitment District to serve as Officer in Charge of Marine Corps Recruiting Station in San Francisco and he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in May 1957.
In August 1957, Lieutenant Colonel Paige was assigned duty as Inspector-Instructor, 7th Infantry Battalion, USMCR, at San Bruno, California, until August 1958, when he was detached to Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, D.C.
In May 1959, he entered the U.S. Army Language School in Monterey, California, and remained there for 9 months until he was ordered to the Marine Barracks, U.S. Naval Station, San Diego, California, to serve as Executive Officer until October 1959. He was placed on the Disability Retired List on 1 November 1959. For being specially commended for performance of duty in actual combat he was promoted to colonel upon retirement.
A complete list of the colonel's decorations and medals includes: the Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Good Conduct Medal, the China Service Medal, the American Defense Service Medal with Base clasp, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, the American Campaign Medal, the Victory Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the Marine Corps Reserve Ribbon, and the United Nations Service Medal.
We'll meet him later on. No doubt he and his fellow Guadacanal Marines (like my Uncle) will be doing sentry duty at the Pearly Gates.
For years, Mitch was instrumental in tracking down MOH "imposters" throughout the years and he worked closely with the FBI to punish the people who dared to falsely claim they were recipients of the Medal.
I recently read a funny story that he only recently was awarded his Eagle Scout award after realizing decades after earning it, that he wasn't recognized on the national Eagle Scout roster. He inquired about it and discovered that sometime after rushing off to find his destiny in WWII, his records were lost, but the scouts were able to track down someone who vouched for him from way back and he finally got his Eagle Scout designation.
It's a sad day for the country to see him go.
Rest in Peace, Mitch.
"With my warmest personal regards and every good wish. Semper Fidelis and God's richest blessings - Mitchell Paige Col. USMC, Ret"
Last Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of
Guadalcanal USMC Colonel Mitchell Paige has died Rest in peace, Colonel Paige ...
I sent some digital pics off to the extended family yesterday after checking out the monument, with a little note to do a Google search on that top Marine Corps name....for the hell of it, I did same yesterday evening, and voila. No mention in the media until this morning's paper. Kinda shocking at the time.
I'm going to keep my autographed GI Joe and copy of his book tucked away just a little tighter now. How I wish I could have one more tour of his study; quite a place.
Oct. 26 falls on a Thursday this year.
Ask the significance of the date, and you're likely to draw some puzzled looksfive more days to stock up for Halloween?
It's a measure of men like Col. Mitchell Paige and Rear Adm. Willis A. "Ching Chong China" Lee that they wouldn't have had it any other way. What they did 58 years ago, they did precisely so their grandchildren could live in a land of peace and plenty.
Whether we've properly safeguarded the freedoms they fought to leave us, may be a discussion best left for another day. Today we struggle to envisionor, for a few of us, to rememberhow the world must have looked on Oct. 26, 1942. A few thousand lonely American Marines had been put ashore on Guadalcanal, a god-forsaken malarial jungle island which just happened to lie like a speed bump at the end of the long blue-water slot between New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelagothe very route the Japanese Navy would have to take to reach Australia.
On Guadalcanal the Marines built an air field. And Japanese commander Isoroku Yamamoto immediately grasped what that meant. No effort would be spared to dislodge these upstart Yanks from a position that could endanger his ships during any future operations to the south. Before long, relentless Japanese counterattacks had driven supporting U.S. Navy from inshore waters. The Marines were on their own.
World War Two is generally calculated from Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939. But that's a eurocentric view. The Japanese had been limbering up their muscles in Korea and Manchuria as early as 1931, and in China by 1934. By 1942 they'd devastated every major Pacific military force or stronghold of the great pre-war powers: Britain, Holland, France, and the United States. The bulk of America's proud Pacific fleet lay beached or rusting on the floor of Pearl Harbor. A few aircraft carriers and submarines remained, though as Mitchell Paige and his 30-odd men were sent out to establish their last, thin defensive line on that ridge southwest of the tiny American bridgehead on Guadalcanal on Oct. 25, he would not have been much encouraged to know how those remaining American aircraft carriers were faring offshore.
(The next day, their Mark XV torpedoescarrying faulty magnetic detonators reverse-engineered from a First World War German designproved so ineffective that the United States Navy couldn't even scuttle the doomed and listing carrier Hornet with eight carefully aimed torpedoes. Instead, our forces suffered the ignominy of leaving the abandoned ship to be polished off by the enemy ... only after Japanese commanders determined she was damaged too badly to be successfully towed back to Tokyo as a trophy.)
As Paigethen a platoon sergeantand his riflemen set about carefully emplacing their four water-cooled Brownings, it's unlikely anyone thought they were about to provide the definitive answer to that most desperate of questions: How many able-bodied U.S. Marines does it take to hold a hill against 2,000 desperate and motivated attackers?
The Japanese Army had not failed in an attempt to seize any major objective since the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. Their commanders certainly did not expect the war to be lost on some God-forsaken jungle ridge manned by one thin line of Yanks in khaki in October of 1942.
But in preceding days, Marine commander Vandegrift had defied War College doctrine, "dangling" his men in exposed positions to draw Japanese attacks, then springing his traps "with the steel vise of firepower and artillery," in the words of Naval historian David Lippman.
The Japanese regiments had been chewed up, good. Still, the American forces had so little to work with that Paige's men would have only the four 30-caliber Brownings to defend the one ridge through which the Japanese opted to launch their final assault against Henderson Field, that fateful night of Oct. 25.
By the time the night was over, "The 29th (Japanese) Infantry Regiment has lost 553 killed or missing and 479 wounded among its 2,554 men," historian Lippman reports. "The 16th (Japanese) Regiment's losses are uncounted, but the 164th's burial parties handle 975 Japanese bodies. ... The American estimate of 2,200 Japanese dead is probably too low."
Among the 90 American dead and wounded that night were all the men in Mitchell Paige's platoon. Every one. As the night wore on, Paige moved up and down his line, pulling his dead and wounded comrades back into their foxholes and firing a few bursts from each of the four Brownings in turn, convincing the Japanese forces down the hill that the positions were still manned.
The citation for Paige's Congressional Medal of Honor picks up the tale: "When the enemy broke through the line directly in front of his position, P/Sgt. Paige, commanding a machinegun section with fearless determination, continued to direct the fire of his gunners until all his men were either killed or wounded. Alone, against the deadly hail of Japanese shells, he fought with his gun and when it was destroyed, took over another, moving from gun to gun, never ceasing his withering fire."
In the end, Sgt. Paige picked up the last of the 40-pound, belt-fed Browningsthe same design which John Moses Browning famously fired for a continuous 25 minutes until it ran out of ammunition at its first U.S. Army trialand did something for which the weapon was never designed. Sgt. Paige walked down the hill toward the place where he could hear the last Japanese survivors rallying to move around his flank, the gun cradled under his arm, firing as he went.
The weapon did not fail.
# # #
Coming up at dawn, battalion executive officer Major Odell M. Conoley first discovered the answer to our question: How many able-bodied Marines does it take to hold a hill against two regiments of motivated, combat-hardened infantrymen who have never known defeat?
On a hill where the bodies were piled like cordwood, Mitchell Paige alone sat upright behind his 30-caliber Browning, waiting to see what the dawn would bring.
One hill: one Marine.
But that was the second problem. Part of the American line had fallen to the last Japanese attack. "In the early morning light, the enemy could be seen a few yards off, and vapor from the barrels of their machine guns was clearly visible," reports historian Lippman. "It was decided to try to rush the position."
For the task, Major Conoley gathered together "three enlisted communication personnel, several riflemen, a few company runners who were at the point, together with a cook and a few messmen who had brought food to the position the evening before."
Joined by Paige, this ad hoc force of 17 Marines counterattacked at 5:40 a.m., discovering that "the extremely short range allowed the optimum use of grenades." In the end, "The element of surprise permitted the small force to clear the crest."
And that's where the unstoppable wave of Japanese conquest finally crested, broke, and began to recede. On an unnamed jungle ridge on an insignificant island no one had ever heard of, called Guadalcanal. Because of a handful of U.S. Marines, one of whom, now 82, lives out a quiet retirement with his wife Marilyn in La Quinta, Calif.
But while the Marines had won their battle on land, it would be meaningless unless the U.S. Navy could figure out a way to stop losing night battles in "The Slot" to the northwest of the island, through which the Japanese kept sending in barges filled with supplies and reinforcements for their own desperate forces on Guadalcanal.
The U.S. Navy had lost so many ships in those dreaded night actions that the waters off Savo were given the grisly sailor's nickname by which they're still known today: Ironbottom Sound.
So desperate did things become that finally, 18 days after Mitchell Paige won his Congressional Medal of Honor on that ridge above Henderson Field, Admiral Bull Halsey himself broke a stern War College edictthe one against committing capital ships in restricted waters. Gambling the future of the cut-off troops on Guadalcanal on one final roll of the dice, Halsey dispatched into the Slot his two remaining fast battleships, the USS South Dakota and the USS Washington, escorted by the only four destroyers with enough fuel in their bunkers to get them there and back.
In command of the 28-knot battlewagons was the right man at the right place, gunnery expert Rear Adm. Willis A. "Ching Chong China" Lee. Lee's flag flew aboard the Washington, in turn commanded by Captain Glenn Davis.
Lee was a nut for gunnery drills. "He tested every gunnery-book rule with exercises," Lippman writes, "and ordered gunnery drills under odd conditionsturret firing with relief crews, anything that might simulate the freakishness of battle."
# # #
As it turned out, the American destroyers need not have worried about carrying enough fuel to get home. By 11 p.m. on Nov. 13, outnumbered better than three-to-one by a massive Japanese task force driving down from the northwest, every one of the four American destroyers had been shot up, sunk, or set aflame, while the South Dakotaknown throughout the fleet as a jinx shipmanaged to damage some lesser Japanese vessels but continued to be plagued with electrical and fire control problems.
"Washington was now the only intact ship left in the force," Lippman writes. "In fact, at that moment Washington was the entire U.S. Pacific Fleet. She was the only barrier between (Admiral) Kondo's ships and Guadalcanal. If this one ship did not stop 14 Japanese ships right then and there, America might lose the war. ...
"On Washington's bridge, Lieutenant Ray Hunter still had the conn. He had just heard that South Dakota had gone off the air and had seen (destroyers) Walke and Preston "blow sky high." Dead ahead lay their burning wreckage, while hundreds of men were swimming in the water and Japanese ships were racing in.
"Hunter had to do something. The course he took now could decide the war. 'Come left,' he said, and Washington straightened out on a course parallel to the one on which she (had been) steaming. Washington's rudder change put the burning destroyers between her and the enemy, preventing her from being silhouetted by their fires.
"The move made the Japanese momentarily cease fire. Lacking radar, they could not spot Washington behind the fires. ...
"Meanwhile, Washington raced through burning seas. Everyone could see dozens of men in the water clinging to floating wreckage. Flag Lieutenant Raymond Thompson said, "Seeing that burning, sinking ship as it passed so close aboard, and realizing that there was nothing I, or anyone, could do about it, was a devastating experience.'
"Commander Ayrault, Washington's executive officer, clambered down ladders, ran to Bart Stoodley's damage-control post, and ordered Stoodley to cut loose life rafts. That saved a lot of lives. But the men in the water had some fight left in them. One was heard to scream, 'Get after them, Washington!' "
Sacrificing their ships by maneuvering into the path of torpedoes intended for the Washington, the captains of the American destroyers had given China Lee one final chance. The Washington was fast, undamaged, and bristling with 16-inch guns. And, thanks to Lt. Hunter's course change, she was also now invisible to the enemy.
Blinded by the smoke and flames, the Japanese battleship Kirishima turned on her searchlights, illuminating the helpless South Dakota, and opened fire. Finally, standing out in the darkness, Lee and Davis could positively identify an enemy target.
The Washington's main batteries opened fire at 12 midnight precisely. Her new SG radar fire control system worked perfectly. Between midnight and 12:07 a.m., Nov. 14, the "last ship in the U.S. Pacific Fleet" stunned the battleship Kirishima with 75, 16-inch shells. For those aboard the Kirishima, it rained steel.
In seven minutes, the Japanese battleship was reduced to a funeral pyre. She went down at 3:25 a.m., the first enemy sunk by an American battleship since the Spanish-American War. Stunned, the remaining Japanese ships withdrew. Within days, Yamamoto and his staff reviewed their mounting losses and recommended the unthinkable to the emperorwithdrawal from Guadalcanal.
But who remembers, today, how close-run a thing it wasthe ridge held by a single Marine, the battle won by the last American ship?
In the autumn of 1942.
When the Hasbro Toy Co. called up some years back, asking permission to put the retired colonel's face on some kid's doll, Mitchell Paige thought they must be joking.
But they weren't. That's his mug, on the little Marine they call "GI Joe."
And now you know.
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and editor of Financial Privacy Report (subscribe by calling Nicholas at 612-895-8757.)
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