LA QUINTA, Calif. -- The Desert Sands Unified School District held a dedication ceremony for the new Colonel Mitchell Paige Middle School here Nov. 3.
The school was named after Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Marine Col. Mitchell Paige, after a unanimous decision by the district staff, parents and the La Quinta community, said Peggy Reyes, the district’s director of facilities.
Paige was born in Charleroi, Pa., on Aug. 31, 1918. He enlisted in the Marine Corps one day after his 18th birthday and has held nearly every rank and billet in an infantry battalion from private to commanding officer. He received a battlefield commission to lieutenant in December 1942, according to his official page on the Web site, http://www.homeofheroes.com.
Paige served with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, when he received the most prestigious military honor for his actions as a platoon sergeant at the Battle of Guadalcanal on Oct. 26, 1942.
During the battle, enemy forces had broken through the line in front of his position, and Paige, commanding a machinegun section, continued to direct the fire of his gunners until all of his men were either killed or wounded. Against the hail of Japanese fire, he manned his gun until it was destroyed, then took over another, moving from gun to gun, never ceasing fire until reinforcements arrived. Then, he led a bayonet charge, driving the enemy back and preventing a break through their position, according to the award citation.
Paige retired from the Marine Corps on July 1, 1964, and spent the last 25 years of his life in La Quinta, donating his time and service, until he passed away on Nov. 15, 2003.
Paige wrote an autobiography titled, "A Marine Named Mitch," published in 1975. He was also the model for Hasbro Toy Company’s GI Joe action figure, U.S. Marine World War II Medal of Honor Hero in 1998.
Students from the new middle school, like Samantha Perez, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at the school were proud to go to a school named after a hero.
"Colonel Mitchell Paige shows us how to be truly dedicated," she said. "He was dedicated to his Marines, his country and his community. He was brave for putting his life on the line to keep fighting like he did."
Students were also excited about the new facilities at the school, like Pauline Banuelos, a 12-year-old eighth-grader at the school.
"I’m very proud to go to this school," she said. "It’s brand new, clean and better than my other school.
"It’s neat we have it named after someone who got a Medal of Honor, too," she continued.
There were more than 12 speakers at the ceremony including family and friends of Paige, community leaders, politicians and veterans who have been touched by Paige’s life and story.
Paige’s wife, Marilyn, accompanied their son, Bill Wylde, when he read Paige’s "Message to America," a well-known speech Paige wrote about patriotism.
"‘I am proud to be a citizen of a nation whose objective is peace and goodwill for all mankind. A nation which has contributed so much for the benefit of peoples all over the world,’” Wylde quoted from the speech.
"‘I can never believe it is old-fashioned to love your flag and country, nor can I believe it is being square to stand in readiness behind our flag to defend those ideals for which it stands against all enemies, foreign or domestic,’" he continued.
Planning for the new school began four years ago, and construction began early in the Spring 2005, said Reyes.
Other names considered for the school were: Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, Rosa Parks, a civil rights activist, and Helen Keller, a deaf and blind activist and author.
But it was a unanimous decision to honor the war hero and dedicate the middle school to his memory, said Reyes.