By David Rogers. November 12, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC — At least two and maybe three generations of Americans are so far removed from World War I, World War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War that they may not truly understand the sacrifices made by their forefathers to protect our way of life and the freedoms that we have so long cherished. In an age when unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are remotely controlled by military men and women serving in all branches of the armed forces and their use is glorified in movies and television, it is easy to forget that we did not always have them — and all too often, even today, military service personnel are still called into harm’s way.
For the men and women who have lived through armed conflict and the ravages of battle, stories of war often stir a flood of unwanted memories. But stories of heroism and bravery in the face of grave danger put a thankful exclamation point on the sacrifices of those who have gone before us.
Without those sacrifices, we would not have what we have.
Stories like those told by U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. (Ret.) Bill Parker on Saturday at Blowing Rock’s American Legion Building as part of the town’s Veteran’s Day Ceremony are important, poignant reminders that the privilege we know today came at a human cost.
“Without those sacrifices,” Parker pointed out to Blowing Rock News after the ceremony, “we would not have what we have today. It is sad that people don’t realize what others have sacrificed so that they can have what they have. That is why it is so important for those of us who have gone through (military service, conflict and war) to remind everyone that freedom is not free. It is paid for with the blood of people, maybe even brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors. It is paid for people who are willing to die to protect how we live.
“Even in today’s era of drones and high technology,” Parker added, “the people who are putting on the uniform are willing to risk their lives for what we have. Whether they are actually called on to go out in combat or not is immaterial, because they have stated by their willingness to serve that, if called upon, they are willing to make that ultimate sacrifice. If our rights are worth having, they are worth fighting for.
Freedom is not free.
“The whole point of our ceremony,” Parker concluded, “is that we are surrounded by people who don’t talk about war, but we recognize their sacrifices.”
American Legion Post 256 Commander Albert Yount presided over Saturday’s proceedings, first acknowledging the many men and women in the audience who have served in the military. He introduced Lynn Lawrence who led the crowd of nearly 100 seated and standing in the singing of The Star Spangled Banner. Yount turned the program over to Jim West, who led the crowd in the singing of a medley of songs representing every branch of military service. Veterans of each branch were asked to stand as their respective songs were played and sung.
Yount introduced a special guest, Chuck Wright, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and organizer of the U.S. Marine Corps League chapter in Boone, who gave a brief introduction of the organization which, among other things, is a principal supporter of the Toys for Tots program around Christmastime. The group also builds handicap ramps for handicapped veterans, both rebuilding and new.
Even after the Japanese landed at Guadalcanal, he continued to provide intelligence to the Allies while hiding in the jungle.
“When you see us come around in these bright red jackets,” Wright smiled, “stick a hand in your pocket and give us a donation (for a great cause).”
Parker has been a much anticipated speaker at every Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremony in Blowing Rock for many years because of his historical anecdotes featuring acts of bravery and courage during times of war.
“This year,” he told the gathering, “I don’t have a story. I am going to tell my daughter’s story of Martin and Mitch.”
We offer Parker’s account of his daughter’s story in its entirety.
I was on the phone with my Daughter recently and told her it was time to prepare a talk for Veteran’s Day. I was looking into finding another interesting story about veterans but had no luck so far. So she said that I need to tell Blowing Rock about Mitch and Martin. She said that these two gentlemen changed her life. So, here is the story about Mitch and Martin.
It was February of 1996 when Mitch and Martin came into my daughter’s life. Her husband, John, was a Captain in the Marine Corps and was the aide to the Commanding General of the First Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California. The Commanding General volunteered to sponsor the 55th Anniversary Reunion of the First Marine Division. My daughter and her husband were assigned to escort Mitch and Martin for a week and make sure they got to all of the various events associated with the 55th reunion.
So, on the first day of the event, my daughter and her husband went to the San Diego airport to pick up Martin and bring him to Camp Pendleton, 60 miles north of San Diego. They met a grizzled 82 year old man with a broad Australian accent and brought him to Camp Pendleton. The same day, Mitch drove south from La Quinta, California and joined up with the group. Mitch was also a grizzled 79 year old veteran.
During the week of reunion events and sightseeing, Mitch and Martin became endearing friends and wonderful companions. They talked about everything but what they did in the war. Martin had just authored a book of his experiences and presented my daughter. The week they spent together changed my daughter’s life and she still had tears in her eyes as she told me about these two men.
For those of you who are not history buffs, let me refresh your memories of what happened on an island called Guadalcanal in 1942. There was a report from an Australian coast watcher that the Japanese had landed on Guadalcanal and were building an airfield on the island that would have threatened US and allied shipping in the area and would sea shipping lifelines for Australia and New Zealand. Guadalcanal was the first offensive operation in the Pacific and the landing was assigned to the First Marine Division. The fighting was intensive and bitter. It lasted from August 1942 to February 1943 and the outcome was in doubt for months.
So let me tell you about these two older gentlemen who touched my daughter’s life. First was Martin Clemens. He was a British colonial administrator at Guadalcanal in 1941. When World War II started, Martin became a coast watcher reporting on Japanese ship movements. When the Japanese landed, he went into hiding in the jungle and continued to provide intelligence to the allies. It was Martin who reported the beginning of construction of a Japanese airfield. A week after the First Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal, Martin stepped out of the jungle, gaunt, bearded, dressed in rags, and barefoot and reported to the Commanding General. General Vandegrift immediately assigned him as British Liaison on his staff and for the entire campaign; Martin provided vital intelligence to the Marines.
The second older gentleman was Mitch Paige. Mitch was a Marine Staff Sergeant with the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal. In October 1942, an overwhelming Japanese attack killed or wounded all of the Marines on the defensive line. Mitch fired his machinegun until it became too hot to fire. He then went along the line to the next machinegun and continued firing until it too failed. He went to the next machine gun and continued firing until Marine reinforcements arrived to shore up the defense line. Mitch immediately led a bayonet charge driving the surviving Japanese back into the jungle. For his actions which saved the Marine defensive position, Mitch received a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant and the Congressional Medal of Honor.
If you met Mitch or Martin on the street, you would have just seen gray haired older gentlemen. They never boasted about their heroic actions on Guadalcanal in late 1942 and 1943. In 1942 they changed the course of history and for a week in 1997, they changed the life of my daughter. Martin Clemens died at age 94 in 2009 and Mitch Paige died at age 85 in 2003. She still talks about Mitch and Martin and wanted me to share their stories with all of you. Thank you for listening.