by Andy Weddington
Friday, 20 July 2012
"Welcome to the regiment. I see you figured out how to button your blouse." Colonel D. J. Meyers, USMC
Sometime during the first half of calendar year 1935 a 17 year-old young man from a small town in Pennsylvania was told by a Marine recruiter he was too young to enlist--18 was the requirement.
So on his 18th birthday, 31 August, the following year Mitchell Paige enlisted and was shipped to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.
Following recruit training and service in Cuba, young Paige was assigned to the 1st Marine Division in early 1941. Twenty-one months later, not even two months past his 24th birthday, serving as a machine gun platoon sergeant during the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, Sergeant Paige did something extraordinary. Against a superior Japanese force, with all of his men wounded or killed, he manned several machine gun positions holding off the enemy and when reinforcements arrived he led a bayonet charge to finally repel the attack. His actions on Monday, 26 October 1942 earned him the Medal of Honor. And several wounds. And a distinguished place in Corps history.
Mitchell Paige went on to earn a commission and retire 22 years later as a colonel.
Eleven years after Paige's battlefield heroism and with another war underway in Korea a young man by the name of Donald J. Myers reported to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, for training. He was assigned to the 7th Recruit Training Battalion--one of four additional battalions formed to handle the increased flow. Imagine the harsh climatic conditions, and biting insects and more, of Parris Island and living in an 8-man tent for the duration. So went Recruit Myers' experience.
Myers went on to serve as an enlisted Marine, attend the Naval Academy, earn a commission as a Marine second lieutenant and serve a distinguished career to include a stint of combat in Vietnam--for some time as the operations officer for an infantry battalion commander, lieutenant colonel, who some 13 years later would command the recruit depot at Parris Island and hand-pick Colonel Myers as his regimental commander.
Our small Corps...
A day or so after New Years 1981, Second Lieutenant Weddington reported to the Second Marine Division. Subsequently assigned to 6th Marines for duty as an infantry platoon commander, I was welcomed to the Regiment by the executive officer--Lieutenant Colonel Don Myers. That a memorable encounter to be told another time.
And two and half years later (Spring 1983), after time with 2nd Battalion 6th Marines and Division headquarters, I was welcomed to the Regiment at Parris Island, for duty as a Series Commander, by the commanding officer--Colonel Don Myers. His first remark was a good-humored ice-breaking one in reference to our awkward meeting at Camp Lejeune. Clearly, I'd made an impression.
I don't know that Colonel Myers and Colonel Paige ever met but certainly Colonel Myers knew of Paige's World War II heroism.
In 1985, a year after Colonel Myers relinquished command at Parris Island, who shows up aboard the depot as part of a reunion group? Colonel Mitchell Paige. The group toured the depot and attended a graduation parade. Now a captain, I remember interacting with the 'old Corps' Marines but don't recall specifically meeting Paige.
Seventeen years later, Summer 2002, assigned to the Combat Center in 29 Palms, California, I met Colonel Paige. He, and his wife, lived in the Coachella Valley and were regular guests at base parades and ceremonies.
Now ten years later, Friday evening, 13 July 2012--a week ago--I had the privilege to tell this story as introduction and before turning the floor over to Colonel Don Myers, USMC (Retired); dinner keynote speaker for a reunion of a couple dozen Drill Instructors and officers from 2nd Recruit Training Battalion and 'F' Company who served under his command in the early 80s. And just before dinner, he and a handful of others were able to speak by phone with our depot commanding general (his battalion commander in Vietnam).
Indeed it was my honor to weave a story about Marines--how generations connect--while introducing our guest, a distinguished Marine; who rose from recruit at Parris Island to command the Regiment 29 years later.
Marines of the Recruit Training Regiment, MCRD, Parris Island (early to mid 80s)
Colonel Myers, CO (1982-1984) 5th from left--light blue shirt/ball cap
Amongst that small audience were four men whose service echoed the introduction, that generational link, between Marines--two had been the Senior Drill Instructors of the other two and of those two one was the current sergeant major of 2nd Recruit Training Battalion (who will retire in less than a year).
What a remarkable group of Marines, who made Marines, it was that rallied last week. All a half-shade grayer, a half-pound heavier, and a half-step slower but no question they could still make Marines. No question.
Damn right, it's a small Corps!
Colonel Mitchell Paige died 15 November 2003. He was buried in Riverside National Cemetery, California, with full military honors.