Henry Page, a young Navy gunner’s mate from Moore County, was at the weapons depot when Japanese planes circled overhead at Pearl Harbor.
Within minutes, an unimaginable disaster unfolded around him.
Page, now 96, was among the U.S. service members who diligently searched for survivors and cared for the wounded after the attack 76 years ago today.
It’s hard for him to talk about those memories.
They’re painful snapshots of the day he lost hundreds of comrades, his family says, and he felt helpless.
But over his six-year Navy career, Page would go on to participate in battles on four ships across the South Pacific in patrols to deliver supplies to U.S. troops and shoot down enemy aircraft.
“If not for those guys, we would be living a different life,” said his son, George Page, who pieced together his father’s service based on stories he heard as a child and his own research.
“It’s just an incredible pride,” George Page said. “No one would understand freedom and liberty if not for those guys. They did it without any reservations.”
The U.S. plunged into World War II after Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
More than 2,300 sailors, soldiers and Marines died in the attack, along with 68 civilians.
Henry Page grew up in the Moore County countryside. His father died when he was young, and his mother did her best earning measly wages to take care of the family.
Page finished high school at age 16 and went to work with the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program for unemployed, unmarried men during the Great Depression. Page was proud of the job, fixing roads and building parks, his son said.
In 1939, he joined the Navy.
For a boy who never had a pair of brand new shoes or regular meals, the Navy offered a steady paycheck, his son said.
Page reported to Charleston, South Carolina, for training as a gunner’s mate. He loaded the ammunition into the guns — heavy ammunition, Page said, explaining he did it with one hand.
“I always thought the Navy was the way to go,” Henry Page said from the North Carolina State Veterans Home in Fayetteville. “I stood gun watch.”
Page remembered training in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Charleston. He said he would stand from his position on the light cruiser and practice shooting blank ammunition at targets pulled by other carriers.
The ship left Norfolk and sailed for the Pacific in the fall of 1940, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command. The ship reached Pearl Harbor on Dec. 12, 1940, where sailors participated in fleet maneuvers and patrols.
In August 1941, the ship sailed west with other cruisers to patrol between Wake, Midway and Guam, then proceeded to Manila to deliver supplies to U.S. troops in the Philippines. The ship returned to Pearl Harbor at the end of September and moored for upkeep, according to the Navy.
Page was in the process of transferring from the USS St. Louis to another ship on Dec. 7, 1941.
He was on land at the weapons depot when the first sounds of aircraft were heard.
Within minutes of the Japanese sighting, antiaircraft guns were manned and firing on the attackers, according to the Navy.
The USS St. Louis is credited with shooting down an enemy torpedo plane.
Page was among the U.S. service members who searched for survivors and helped the wounded.
He ended up on the USS Salt Lake City, a heavy cruiser.
During his six years in the Navy, Page would serve on four ships: a light cruiser, an aircraft carrier, a heavy cruiser and a destroyer.
“He was in almost every South Pacific battle,” George Page said.
The son recalls a battle story from his father about being part of a fleet sent to block transports. The ships came under fire by a Japanese task force, George Page, said.
His father’s ship was struck by a torpedo. A destroyer in the fleet circled around, dropping smoke to conceal the damaged ship while the crews worked to make enough repairs for it to put up a defense, he said.
As the fleet broke away, the sailors saw that nine of the 12 Japanese ships were on fire and three were sunk, George Page said.
The American ship had fired so much on the enemy it had to return to the U.S. to replace rifles, he said.
Henry Page was discharged from Charleston in 1945. He was awarded Bronze Stars for his heroic service, his son said.
“He was very proud of his service,” he said. “If there was a major battle in the Pacific, he was there.”
Staff writer Amanda Dolasinski can be reached at [email protected] or 486-3528.
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