Paige, Medal of Honor Recipient, Dies at 85.
|By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2003; Page B06
Mitchell Paige, 85, a retired Marine Corps colonel
who received the Medal of Honor after almost single-handedly staving
off enemy forces during a crucial battle of World War II, died Nov.
15 at his home in La Quinta, Calif., southeast of Palm Springs. He
had congestive heart failure.
On Oct. 26, 1942, Col. Paige, who was then a sergeant, was leading
a platoon defending a small but strategic airfield on jungle-covered
Guadalcanal, part of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. The
islands and the airstrip, Henderson Field, were key positions in the
defense of Australia. Col. Paige and his 33 men placed their few machine
guns on a hilltop ridge, bracing for the inevitable: thousands of
Japanese soldiers planning to rush them at night. To hear any sneak
attack, Col. Paige placed C ration tins filled with empty bullet casings
about 20 yards away, near the tall grass. It was, in fact, a noisy
assault. He said the Japanese yelled in the darkness "Banzai!" and
"Blood for the emperor!" One of his own men started a chorus of "Blood
for Eleanor!" referring to first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Because of the sheer volume of Japanese troops he faced, Col. Paige
ordered members of his platoon to fire until they or the enemy were
dead or wounded. Soon, he was the only able-bodied American left on
the ridge and solely held the Japanese at bay. In the pre-dawn, he
darted from one machine gun to another, firing constantly to make
the Japanese think he had a fully manned defense. He was under ceaseless
threat. At one point, he said, he felt the heat from bullets that
whizzed past his neck. His metal helmet also was struck by gunfire.
As the battle waged into morning, he knew the enemy would see he was
the only one standing. By then, U.S. reinforcements had arrived with
bayonets. Col. Paige grabbed one of his machine guns, still burning
hot after hours of use and charged into enemy lines with the others.
The Japanese began their retreat.
Besides the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award for valor,
Col. Paige's decorations included the Purple Heart. He spent two more
years in the South Pacific before returning home. He was a veteran
of the Korean War and retired in 1964 as a full colonel. During the
Vietnam War, he did advisory work to test high-powered rockets. Col.
Paige, the son of Serbian immigrants, was born in the southwestern
Pennsylvania town of Charleroi. On his 18th birthday, in 1936, he
walked and hitchhiked to the nearest Marine Corps recruiting station
-- in Baltimore, 200 miles away.
After retiring, he spent years on a crusade to identify those who
bought, stole and sold the Medal of Honor for profit or false glory.
Starting in the mid-1990s, he worked in tandem with the FBI. "I couldn't
arrest these guys before I got together with the FBI," he told Newsday
in April, "but I scared the hell out of them and even got some of
the medals back." Working with Rep. Al McCandless (R-Calif.), Col.
Paige successfully lobbied for a provision in a 1994 crime bill that
increased the penalties for selling a Medal of Honor from six months
in jail and a $250 fine to one year in jail and a $100,000 fine.
A friend in the FBI also helped Col. Paige on another issue of great
personal interest: becoming an Eagle Scout. His old paperwork had
never been properly submitted before he enlisted in the Marine Corps.
In March, he received his Eagle Scout badge. "My heart is overwhelmed
with joy," he said at the time.
His first wife, Genevieve Paige, died in 1979. Survivors include his
wife of 23 years, Marilyn Paige of La Quinta; two children from his
first marriage, Mitchell J. Paige of Goddard, Kan., and Janis Bruha
of San Mateo, Calif.; four stepchildren, Wendy Allaire of Laguna Hills,
Calif., Judith Terry of Biggs, Calif., William Wylde of Whittier,
Calif., and Robert Corey Wylde of Fullerton, Calif.; fifteen grandchildren;
and six great-grandchildren.
© 2003 Courtesy of The Washington Post Company
|It was the honor of a lifetime, to meet a Congressional
Medal of Honor recipient from World War II. In June of 2000, Retired
USMC Colonel Mitchell Paige visited Eldred and I joined the long line
of people who wished to meet him and maybe get an autograph and photo
taken with him. As seen above, I did manage to have a photograph of
us two together and Colonel Paige also signed my History of the United
States Marine Corps book.
Colonel Paige was a great hero of the Pacific battlefield during World
War II. He was one of thirty-five Pennsylvanians to receive the Medal
of Honor during the war. Col. Paige took interest in my being a historian
of military history and he even expressed a desire to visit my collection
archive, but his schedule was always so tight that we never managed
to break away for a few moments so he could tour my place. Each time
Col. Paige returned to Eldred he always remembered me and was always
the true "officer and a gentleman" to everyone around him.
The United States Marine Corps and we have lost a hero, but he will
never be forgotten.
The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting theMedal of Honor to
Rank and organization: Platoon Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps.
Place and date: Solomon Islands, 26 October 1942.
Entered service at: Pennsylvania.
Born: 31 August 1918, Charleroi, Pa.
For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action
above and beyond the call of duty while serving with a company of
marines in combat against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands
on 26 October 1942. 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 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 breakthrough in our lines. His great
personal valor and unyielding devotion to duty were in keeping with
the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.