A tale of two e-mails

When I opened up my Word program to write this column, I “slugged” it, which means I put the title at the top of the page, indicating what the column would be about. I rarely do that, because I usually have no idea what I’m going to write about until the column is done. Then I look at what I’ve written and give it a title that, hopefully, fits. This time I knew what I was going to write about, because of two e-mails I received last week. These two messages were so in contrast with one another they seemed to originate from different planets, which may very well be the case. Both were about ‘heroes.’ The first email came from Jennifer Marburg, advertising Animal Planet’s Hero of the Year television contest. Every year Animal Planet honors “those who make a difference for animals.” This year the winner was Jean Beasley, of Topsail Beach, N.C., who has worked hard at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center, which evidently saves turtles. The center was named in memory of Jean’s daughter, who was also a sea turtle rescuer. No mistake, this is a commendable endeavor, and the people honored by Animal Planet each year are probably fine folks who are doing their best to help out. But they aren’t heroes. Being a hero is more than giving time, effort and money to a cause, whether it’s saving turtles or building houses for the homeless or feeding the hungry. Being a hero is what the other e-mail I received was about. The other email was from my friend, Morris Gresham, and the title was ‘One Marine, One Ship.’ The Marine was Col. Mitchell Paige, and the ship was the USS Washington, commanded by Capt. Glenn Davis, and serving as the flagship of Rear Adm. Willis “Ching Chong China” Lee. The events in question occurred in October 1942 in the South Pacific Ocean, on and near Guadalcanal. The Washington was one of two battleships, escorted by four destroyers, defending the thin line of U.S. Marines on Guadalcanal from 14 Japanese ships. When the battle was engaged, all the U.S. ships were sunk or damaged beyond use almost immediately except the Washington. Alone, the Washington stood her ground and turned back the Japanese fleet. Meanwhile on Guadalcanal, Mitchell Paige, then a platoon sergeant, placed his four Browning machine guns on a ridge southwest of the American beachhead. The ridge was part of a line that defended Henderson Field, which was deemed essential by both sides, and the Japanese wanted it back. How badly they wanted it back was demonstrated on the night of Oct. 25. The Japanese infantry that attacked the ridge that night had a long history of victories. Their army had not experienced failure since the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. They were confident, well-trained and seasoned, having been involved in the war since 1934. And they wanted that ridge. Paige’s platoon fought all night, repelling wave after wave of enemy soldiers. Of the 2,554 men in the 29th Japanese Infantry Regiment, 553 were killed and 479 were wounded. Total Japanese losses that night exceeded 2,200. On the American side, 90 men were killed or wounded, including all 30 of those in Paige’s platoon. Paige spent the night going from one machine gun post to another, encouraging the men and dragging the dead and wounded into foxholes, until they were all killed. He continued to go from one gun to another, firing from each spot, hoping to convince the enemy the guns were still manned. Toward dawn, he picked up the last of the operational, 40- pound Brownings and walked down the hill toward the Japanese, firing as he went. When battalion XO Major Odell Conoley walked up the ridge on the morning of Oct. 26, he found Sgt. Mitchell Paige sitting behind his Browning, surrounded by hills of dead Japanese and American soldiers. Unfortunately, a nearby position had been overrun and had to be retaken. Maj. Conoley put together a force consisting of several riflemen, some company runners, three enlisted communications fellows, a cook and a few messmen who had brought food to the line the night before. Along with Paige, this cobbled together group of 17, mostly “non-combatants,” attacked and retook the Japanese-held position at 5:40 a.m. U.S. Marine Sgt. Mitchell Paige, the son of Serb immigrants, was given a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant Dec. 19, 1942, and later received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle of Guadalcanal. He was a hero, a man who risked his life for his fellowman. He had nothing against turtles. This Nov. 10 will be the 232nd birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps, an organization that is older than the United States of America. Col. Paige passed on in 2003, but you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a Marine and saying thanks and happy birthday. In English’ ‘ Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who would like to extend a special “thank you” to Gordo and Chris. Write to him at P.O. Box 1600, Mason, Tex. 76856 or jeep@verizon.net.

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