Mitch was starting to regret cutting the sleeves off his dungaree shirt with his KA-BAR the day before; in the jungle at night it just meant more landing area for mosquitoes. The shirt was typical Corps issue–it didn’t fit. The only thing the Corps made sure fit were the boots. Oh yeah, they had sergeants oversee the boot-fitting operation, and once those boondockers got wet they molded right to the shape of your foot, right down to the little toe. Funny thing about his shirt; it was too SMALL. Hell, he had to drink a quart of water and eat a bunch of bananas to make the minimum weight to get in the Corps, and then they give him crap that was too small! He had cut the sleeves because when he threw a grenade yesterday at a group of Japs he expected it to go right in the “strike zone,” just like when he pitched for the Asiatic Fleet team, but the damned sleeves fouled him up, so off they came.
Couldn’t slap at the mosquitoes, though. Too much noise. Sound and smell was how you “see” in the jungles of “the ‘Canal” at night. He’d heard plenty of Japanese during his China tour before the war – he could even speak a few words–and he’d been close enough to smell those stinky fish heads or whatever it was they got for rations. He could hear and smell them now–not more than fifty yards away in the darkness, and approaching.
Being all of 24 years old, a China Marine and the Platoon Sergeant, he was an old man to the kids around him. He wasn’t that much of a hard-ass, but he made damned sure each of those boys could field strip and reassemble their 1903 Springfields, their 1911 Colt .45s, and the four .30 caliber water-cooled Brownings entrusted to their care. He drilled it into their muscle memory until they could do it blindfolded. He wondered if anything he had pounded into their heads would save any of their lives tonight…
Little lights flickering–like fireflies. Assembly lights for Jap squads. Mitch went from gun to gun, warning them not to give away their positions. Without a sound, men began to place grenades in neat little lines on the rim of the gun pits. Mitch had the foresight to string some wire a few yards away with ration cans containing empty brass cartridge casings attached. Those cans now began to sing out like bamboo wind chimes. He pulled the pin on a grenade and held the lever shut in his hand behind him, ready to toss.
A moving shadow near Gaston’s gun…Mitch threw his pineapple. Someone screamed.
“Fire machine guns! FIRE!” he yelled. The Brownings went to work.
A burst from a Nambu gun nearly cut Lock in half. Liephart took a round, grunted and went to his knees, as three Japs charged him. Mitch shot two with his Colt, but the third lifted little Liephart right off the ground with his bayonet before Mitch shot him.
Gaston had fallen on his back. A Jap officer cut his leg open with his katana, and began hacking through the Springfield Gaston held across his chest to block him. The Jap slipped, and as his head lowered, Gaston rolled over onto his bad leg and, using his good leg, smashed his boondocker into the man’s jaw. The Jap fell backwards, his head at an odd angle and his neck broken.
Blood for the Emperor!” Japs echoed each other in broken English.
“Yeah?! Well, BLOOD FOR ELEANOR!” Stansberry yelled back, as he pulled the bolt back on his Tommy gun. Mitch couldn’t tell if Stanberry was screaming from blood lust, or from the stock of that Tommy recoiling against the bullet hole in his shoulder as he fired.
Something told Mitch to turn to his left, just as the bayonet lunged. He reflexively put up his left hand, and the blade sliced the skin between his little finger and his ring finger. He discovered why the bayonet had been so easy to parry–when the man collapsed and he could see the bullet holes in his back.
The attack receded, but now they were taking sniper fire from the tops of trees some of the retreating Japanese had climbed.
“Sarge! My goddamn gun’s jammed!”
“What the hell’s wrong with it, Pettyjohn?”
“Friggin’ cartridge exploded and the slug’s stuck in there.”
“Get outta the way…” Mitch grabbed a combo tool out of the kit under the gun and pried the bullet out, then replaced the belt feed pawl Pettyjohn had managed to tear up trying to clear the gun. He opened an ammo box and started to lock a belt into the gun.
PING- PING-PINNGG… Mitch jumped back, his hand stinging, as if he’d stuck a bobby pin in an outlet. A burst from a nearby Nambu had rendered his repair work futile.
The Japs were back…
Hinkley and Dudley were wounded. On the far left, Hinson, bleeding badly, “spiked” his gun when all the riflemen covering him were either killed or wounded, and slipped to the rear. Shrapnel tore Cashman’s back apart, killing him instantly. Stansberry took another round, and a Corpsman dragged him to the rear.
Mitch grabbed Gaston’s gun and fired traversing bursts until it overheated. He jumped from gun pit to gun pit, firing each one until the Japs concentrated fire on him, or that gun overheated. He could see figures running all around him–lots of yelling, no English; just Japanese… Mitch was alone on the knoll.
At times crawling and at times in a running crouch, Mitch got off the knoll and into the area on the right held by G Company. THEY had another Browning that was still cool.
“Gimme the gun!” Mitch ordered, as he picked up the gun tripod and all. “Get those ammo boxes and the water… The rest of you fix bayonets and follow me!” Too stunned to question who he was or where they were going, they formed a skirmish line and followed his lead in the grey pre-dawn light – back across the knoll.
Mitch and his newfound crew set the gun up, and he fired through a 250 round belt at Japs that had already gotten past the line and were headed towards Battalion CP in the rear. Seeing some of their comrades shot in the back, the Japs gave up on that idea and started to filter back.
As the sun peeked over the jungle canopy to the east, it seemed like the Jap and Mitch saw the abandoned Browning out there in the open at the same time. Both made a run for it. Mitch got there first–his legs inspired by the sniper fire and the occasional mortar dropping in. The Jap dropped down, and the question was: which can be loaded faster, a Browning or a Nambu?
Mitch fumbled a belt into the breach, pulled the bolt back to lock the belt, but before he could push it forward again he froze… He wanted to move, but he couldn’t. It was like the hypnotist trick where he tells you not to move and you can’t till he tells you. After a few seconds it was as if the hypnotist spoke. Mitch lunged forward, pushed the bolt forward and back and swung the gun towards his adversary, who had just proceeded to empty his 30 round magazine into the spot where Mitch had been. Mitch put a short burst into him.
Three Marines ran ammo to him. All three got shot doing it.
Mitch had a front row seat, and he watched as a ragtag group of Marine bandsmen, cooks, wiremen, and anybody else Major Conoley back at the CP could find, form a skirmish line and advance. “Every Marine a rifleman…” Mitch whispered to himself. He could see the Japs in the tall grass waiting for them. He couldn’t take not moving anymore, as the world whirled around him. It felt like his legs were screaming “MOVE!” Mitch locked one ammo belt in, unhitched the Browning from the tripod, threw another belt over his shoulder, cradled the hot barrel in his arms, and charged.
When it was finally over, Mitch REALLY regretted cutting off his sleeves, as the Corpsman put salve up and down his blistered arms. He looked around for his pack. When he found it, he dumped it out to see what he needed and what he had left. A New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs a Navy chaplain gave him fell on the ground, open to his favorite verse: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Every time he read that verse, he could still hear his Ma in that thick Serbian accent the day he left to join the Corps: “Trust in God. Don’t try to figure out everything for yourself.”
Melbourne, Australia – 21 May 1943:
“Red Mike” Edson felt kinda sheepish…
“Hey Paige… Come here a minute… They’re takin’ all these pictures in honor of you and Basilone, and all I got are my marksmanship badges. Can I borrow your ribbon for a few minutes?”
“It’d be an honor, Colonel.”
“You know, you were their last chance…”
“Say again, Sir?”
“When my boys held them off on Bloody Ridge, we knew they’d come back. Henderson Field was the key to the Southwest Pacific. But they were running out of time and supplies. The Navy boys were startin’ to really put the squeeze on ’em. Getting through you was their last chance to split us in half and retake the airfield… We’re gonna come at Japan from all sides now.”
Mitch remembered another Bible verse he’d read about in U.S. history class, of all places. As the Redcoats came down New York to split the colonies in two, some Continental nailed a message to a tree just north of Saratoga: “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” Job 38:11.
PAIGE, MITCHELL
CITATION:
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 machine gun section with fearless determination, continued to direct the fire of his gunners until all the 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 U.S. Naval Service –
MEDAL OF HONOR.
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