Even at 63, two-time Purple Heart recipient and Independence City Council member Jim Page said he would serve his country again tomorrow if he could.

Even at 63, two-time Purple Heart recipient and Independence City Council member Jim Page said he would serve his country again tomorrow if he could.

His love for the U.S. military started five decades ago. At age 10, Page visited a Whiteman Air Force Base air show featuring the 82nd Airborne Division with a three-plane drop.

“I saw those parachutes opening up up there,” Page said, “and I looked at my dad and I said, ‘One of these days, I’m going to do that.’ ”

Eight years later, in March 1966, the Independence native enlisted in the U.S. Army.

“God, country, family,” Page said of his reasons for enlisting at age 18. “If the family tradition is correct, my family’s military presence goes back to the Revolutionary War.”

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“Oh, yes,” Page said, smiling slyly, of whether he remembers his first days in the U.S. Army. He traveled by bus from downtown Kansas City to Fort Leonard Wood in southern Missouri, arriving “at some ungodly hour in the morning.”  

“This smiling gentleman, a short fireplug of a man,” Staff Sgt. William Avery, greeted Page and the other young men in basic training. Page, a swimmer and a diver in high school, wore his hair with a classic 1960s flat top. At 5 a.m. one day, Avery looked at Page in formation, taking in his haircut, saying, “Do you always wear your hair like that, or are you just a smartass?”

He still had to sit in the barber’s chair and get a 90-cent haircut with the rest of the guys in his platoon. The eight weeks of basic training were physically and mentally difficult, Page said, who remembers “a lot of screaming and shouting and close order drill” mixed in with physical conditioning and classes on care and maintenance of equipment and firearms.  

Following basic training and a two-week leave, Page attended eight weeks of advanced individual training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. He learned land navigation and practiced live-fire exercises in the field and on the range, as well as the 5 a.m. physical training similar to basic training.

Page said he loved every minute of it.

“Dad, I really like it. It agrees with me,” Page wrote home in a letter during his early Army experiences. “I’m almost at 150 pounds.”

When Page entered the Army, he stood 5 feet, 7 inches and weighed 127 pounds.

“I was a monster,” he said, smiling. “As far back as I can remember as a kid, I’d always wanted to be in the military. ... I was raised that if your country needed you, you went – no question. A lot of people say that it’s wrong to think, ‘My country, right or wrong,’ but that’s not how I feel about it, and that’s not how I felt about it then. If your country calls, it’s time to go.”

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And then came the Army’s Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning in Georgia, “the toughest things I ever did,” Page said. He had tested out of most of the schools the Army offered, but all Page really wanted was to serve his country as a paratrooper, a role he described as “hit the ground, stay alive and fight. Basically, a paratrooper is airborne infantry. The parachute is just a means to get you to the place you’re going to fight.”

“The Green Beret thing came a little later,” Page said of his role in the Army Special Forces. “You can only hear (Staff Sgt.) Barry Sadler sing the song ‘The Ballad of the Green Berets’ so many times, and all of a sudden you want to jump in and get in the middle of it.”

During basic training, the company commander called Page into his office. He told Page he had qualified for Officer Candidate School but that he hadn’t signed up for it yet. Page also was told he qualified for the West Point Prep program.

The commander asked Page which school he would like, and Page replied, “Neither,” expressing his desires to enlist only as a paratrooper. It was then, Page said, the commander slid the papers across the desk with a pen and asked the young man, “Have you had KP yet?”

Page got the message. He didn’t want additional kitchen police duty, peeling potatoes and cleaning grease traps in the mess hall.

“Once you sign up for OCS, you go to OCS,” Page said. “You either graduate or you bust out. Well, once I got there, I wasn’t about to bust out. I’d never quit anything in my life, and I wasn’t about to quit that. It’s just not in me.”  

So, he attended Officer Candidate School from Aug. 22, 1966, to Feb. 17, 1967, followed by three weeks of jump school at Fort Benning and Special Forces training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

1st Lt. Infantry/A-Team Executive Officer Page arrived in Vietnam’s Central Highlands in February 1968 at the tail end of the 1968 Tet Offensive. He was shot through the leg on Feb. 23, 1968, less than two weeks after arriving in Vietnam, and later underwent surgery.

Less than two months later, on April 16, Page suffered a head injury “and got shook up” after a land mine detonated near him. About five days later, he took his medical records and left the hospital “because we were short people,” Page said.    

Several months later, Page contracted dengue hemorrhagic fever and suffered from severe dysentery. “At one point, they didn’t think I was going to make it,” Page said. On June 21, 1968, Page’s 21st birthday, he was flown to a hospital in Japan, unable to walk.

Doctors told him he would never walk again. When they got him strong enough to stand up on a scale, Page weighed 89 pounds. Page said he didn’t recognize himself in the mirror the first time he shaved at the hospital.

He received medical evacuation to San Francisco in August 1968, and the welcoming was unfriendly, Page said.

“That was a real joy,” he said, sarcastically. “San Francisco in ’68 for guys from Vietnam was not good. We got spit on, stuff thrown at us, cussed, called ‘baby burners, murderers.’ For a long time, I was really, really bitter toward civilians – for years. For years. ... It wasn’t like today – today is great in supporting the kids. When they come home, we tell them how much they mean to us.”

Following his medical evacuation, Page returned to Fort Bragg and served as an instructor at the Unconventional Warfare Department. He said he wanted to stay in the Army, but doctors wouldn’t clear him for combat duty.

He left the Army in January 1969. Page tried attending college again, but it didn’t work out, he said. Instead, he served the Independence Police Department as a patrolman from 1972 until his retirement in 2002.

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District 4 Council Member Page encourages residents to attend The Wall That Heals exhibit in Blue Springs next week and to also bring any photographs of those men and women whose names appear on the wall as part of the “Put a Face with a Name” campaign.

“How many Einsteins did we lose? How many future presidents, diplomats and civic leaders did we lose?” Page said. “I think old men should have to fight the wars. As long as there are young men and women who love their country, they’ll step up to the plate – we see that every day now.”