Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tribute to Henry Allison Page III


Henry Allison Page III was my grandpa's best friend and Rhodes Scholar buddy who was KIA by a 
kamikaze fighter in May 1945 while serving on the USS Birmingham. 

I've transcribed the dedication found in "Profile of Europe" by Sam Welles (1948):

To the Memory of Henry Allison Page III
born at Aberdeen, North Carolina, October 19, 1913
killed in action off Okinawa, May 4, 1945.

         Henry Page was the finest person of my generation I have known.

         During an oral examination for his Rhodes Scholarship, he was asked, "What is it that more than anything else makes you hot under the collar?" A southerner answering southerners, in Georgia, he said (one of the astounded examiners later told), "To see anyone be unfair to a negro." When he saw a beggar, he crossed the street if necessary, not to avoid giving but to give. He was one of the best linguists and wittiest talkers I ever heard. He was never unkind, caustic, or fulsome- yet no one could deflate any sort of pretension more neatly and sweetly.

         As a small boy he could identify any star, and would drag people out of bed on frosty nights to come peer through his telescope. At Asheville School his achievements included a 100 in the English college-entrance examination. His Princeton record, from track to phonetics, was topped with the highest undergraduate award, the Pyne Honor Prize. At Oxford his rare combination of great intelligence and warm, human naturalness caused a teacher to say, "He writes on philosophy as if he were writing to his mother." From 1938 to 1940 he had a fellowship at Harvard, and he was nearing his Ph. D. in government when he volunteered for the Navy in June, 1940.

         At Princeton he was a pacifist. In Europe during the late 1930's he saw totalitarianism and decided there were principles for which men must fight if necessary. A commission would have been his for the asking. He characteristically chose a method that would make him a line, not a desk officer: a six-month training course, starting as an apprentice seaman. The Navy several times offered him good shore posts. While no one more valued peace, quiet, pleasure, the amenities in life, seeing friends and having solitude- all the things a warship so seldom provides- Henry felt the issues of World War II so deeply that only the most active part in it could satisfy him. He rejected every shore assignment and was on sea duty from early 1941 until his death.

         He was at the landings in North Africa, Normandy, and southern France. When action lessened in the Atlantic, he applied for a transfer to the Pacific. There he took part in several actions off the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

         The Navy found good use for his precision, skill, and stubborn sense of duty. He was a communications officer on the staff of the admiral commanding the bombardment group off Okinawa. He was on the command ship, at the nerve center. All the messages, in and out, that coordinated the air, ground, and sea bombardment passed through him. He did his complex job under the strain of the continued Japanese suicide attacks that turned Okinawa into the longest and bloodiest battle in American naval history. In April he narrowly escaped death from a Japanese hit on the Tennessee. In May he was killed when a suicide plane struck the Birmingham.

         His admiral took the time to write a letter longhand, stating "I have seen no finer officer in this war."Regulars do not often say that of reservists. The admiral added that Henry was one of the few truly saintly men he had ever known.

         He did have a saint's faith, gentleness, and sheer unselfishness. He also had the flaming temper characteristic of saints when they step out of stained glass. I once told him I was glad to have been one of a large family of children who rubbed off on each other's rough edges. Henry grinned and retorted: "My sister and I knocked 'em off." AS he grew up he learned to control his wrath. But cruelty, meanness, or injustice always aroused it. […]

         On his last leave, Henry managed to walk for a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains he loved so well. He wrote me: "Go as far as I may I do not think I will ever find a more heavenly country than the Smokies in October with the full glory of autumn upon them. It is unbelievable, even while you are looking at it. Make a date for some October, please." Only a few days before his instant death, he wrote of the Germany we had known together and the Japan that had already almost killed him: "The chaos and the misery in Germany must be absolutely inconceivable, though no greater than other suffered by the Germans' hand. The sentiments of Dover Beach thrust themselves almost forcibly upon you these days. And now we propose to do the same to Japan. I, for one, am reluctant to do so." […]

         Those who have said good-by to someone in wartime will know why, in a period of uneasy peace, this book is dedicated to Henry Page.

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