Julius Page doesn’t consider himself a hero, but he always stands ready to help anyone in need.
The value of serving others and being a good leader is among the lessons the Korean War veteran learned while in the U.S. Army, a time when he came close to losing his own life.
Page, 89, is a 1951 graduate of then-South Carolina State College. He is also one of a long line of proud graduates of the institution’s famed ROTC program.
‘Leadership was our key’
Page’s class included retired U.S. Army Brigadier General and Korean War Purple Heart recipient George B. Price, the first graduate of S.C. State’s ROTC program to make general.
“We had terrific instructors at South Carolina State in the ROTC. Leadership was our key. Leadership and taking care of your men wherever you were and at whatever time. That was one of the things we always emphasized, and that’s the thing that kept me going,” Page said.
He added, “That’s been a part of my life since that time. Of course, in Korea, we had three members of my class get killed. There was more than half of the class at West Point that went in there with us killed in that particular year. So it was really a tough time when we went in, but it worked out good.”
Page, who will turn 90 on July 9, served as a member of the 40th Infantry Division.
He recalled his journey from basic training to Korea.
“I went straight down to Fort Benning for an officer-training course. From there, I came back to Fort Jackson in a training unit and trained young soldiers. I departed there, went down the Atlantic coastline, caught a train and went to California at Camp Stoneman,” said Page, who went on to Tokyo, Japan.
“From Tokyo, I went down to Sasebo, Japan. I was sent to Chemical, Biological and Radiological School. From there, I went into Korea,” he said.
Page was assigned to the 40th Infantry, which, at the time, was a National Guard unit stationed out of California.
He vividly remembers the time he earned his Purple Heart, a military decoration awarded to those wounded or killed while serving with the U.S. military.
“After about nine days, I was assigned to take the platoon on the outpost position. From there, I was hit by a sniper while checking on positions along the line. I always joke about that because I told them the sniper was a bad shot because he aimed at my cross rifles. If he had aimed six inches lower, he would have hit my heart. If he had aimed six inches to the right, he would have cut my throat, but neither of them happened,” Page said.
He was carried back to the regimental aid station after he was hit, where he came in contact with a captain who was the son of the late Dr. Benjamin McTeer, one of the first African-American doctors in Orangeburg.
“He said he’d go ahead and send me back home. I told him, ‘I didn’t come over here to go back home. I wasn’t hit bad enough to come back home.’ So he told me it was my decision if I wanted to stay. I decided to stay,” Page said.
“I stayed down with him probably about two to three weeks. Then I went back to my platoon in the outpost position. I had to leave the post at night and come back down to the regimental post to get checked and then go back to my outfit,” said Page, who stayed in Korea for 11 months.
His time there included being under a lot of enemy fire.
“We ran a lot of patrols and were under a lot of fire. We had a lot of scary moments. A new commander came in, and he had wanted all the officers in the first three graders to be able to fire a fire mission from a tank. I got in the tank about 9 o’clock in the morning, and when we put fire out there on the hill, they started putting fire back on the tank. So I had to stay on the tank all day and got out late that night ... and went back to my command post,” Page said.
The 89-year-old says he now suffers from claustrophobia from having spent so much time in a tank.
“We stayed at that position and we moved three or four times. We moved when it was snowing with no cover on the jeeps. We moved most times at night, a lot of times in the daytime. One time, I had a Turkish outfit assigned to my position.
“We always kept fires down and kept the noise down so that we wouldn’t be detected where we were, but the Turks back there, they’d light up fires, anything. They didn’t care nothing about that kind of stuff. It made me a little upset, but we worked it out all right,” Page said.
He said another scary time was when he was coming off of a patrol mission.
“We had had some big tanks in a backup position. We found out that coming off patrol was about as dangerous as going on patrol because if you didn’t get the proper notification, you’d get shot up by your people coming back. So we were coming back into position, and I heard the sound of the gun on a tank turning,” Page said, noting that he knew it was going to be aimed at him and his fellow service members, but that they managed to escape injury.
He added, “Another scary time was when we went in behind the retreating North Koreans. Everywhere there were mines and once you made a path, you couldn’t deviate anymore. They taught us down at Fort Benning that if you go on patrol, you never come back the same way you went out for safety reasons. But in Korea, if you went out and got a safe path, you came back on that same path.”
Page left Korea and returned to Fort Jackson to command a training unit.
“After the third or fourth training unit I commanded, I got assigned to take that unit to Germany. I took the whole company to Germany on the ship. The Atlantic was always rough. The ship was always bouncing to and fro. We’d go in the dining hall and your tray would end up down to the other end of the ship ... It was kind of a rough time, but we enjoyed that,” he said.
Page stayed in Germany and was assigned to a unit located outside of Nuremburg in the town of Fürth.
“We were assigned to a blocking position. If the Russians decided to cross the border, we would delay them until we got enough troops in place to start a war. This was just a tactical position, but nothing ever happened and it went real well,” he said.
‘I had to be blessed’
Page returned home from military service in 1955.
After attending Tuskegee Institute for a while, he returned to Orangeburg to work for Ethyl Corporation as an assistant superintendent in the production area.
“We were making gasoline additives. I stayed there and then decided to go to the post office. I worked at the postal service for 31 years,” said Page, who started out as a carrier and worked his way up to assistant supervisor of mail and delivery.
It was during his time at the post office that Page also joined the board of the former Orangeburg School District 5, a position he held for 35 years.
He is a life member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and VFW Post 8166, where he served as a past commander. He has also served as a senior vice commander of the Purple Heart Orangeburg Chapter 932.
Page is also a member of the Orangeburg NAACP, trustee pro tem of Williams Chapel AME Church and a member of Sigma Phi Pi, the first successful and oldest black Greek-lettered organization.
Page said he has particularly enjoyed the 17 years he has spent as a guardian ad litem.
“It’s an enjoyable and sometimes tough job, but it’s enjoyable when you can have the opportunity to take care of kids. On the school board, a major portion of that was taking care of education for the kids. A guardian ad litem is taking care of the kids who have been disrupted by a family member or some other problem,” he said.
Page said he had learned a couple of lessons from his military service that he carries with him today.
“I got my leadership skills and the ability to serve and be more interested in others than you are directly in yourself. You got to take care of yourself, but you’ve got to be kind, be helpful. Always be on the alert to help somebody,” he said.
He is the recipient of several military awards, including the Korean Service Medal and Combat Infantry Badge, but Page isn’t as preoccupied with awards as he is with just helping others.
He said he knows God has been “exceptionally good” to him, particularly when he could have been killed by a sniper’s bullet in Korea.
“I always tell people that when you come that close, I had to be blessed. You always hear people say, ‘He sure was lucky.’ Well, it wasn’t luck. I think I was definitely blessed and given time enough to go ahead and do something else with my life.
“That’s what I continued to do from the time I got back until now. I’m still doing and serving. I’m doing a lot of things, but the guardian ad litem is one of the big things that I enjoy and, of course, being trustee pro tem at the church,” he said.
Page is also a life member of the South Carolina State Alumni Association and a member of the Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School Booster Club.
He and his wife of more than 30 years, Linda, are the parents of two children.
“I had three children. Two served in the military and one died,” said Page, noting that he has always tried to instill in his children good character, the same character he gleaned from the military.
“I tried to instill in them to always be helpful, obedient and to love people and let people love them,” he said.
Page said he also wants to live a life such that when death inevitably comes, he can go peacefully. He said that's why he lives by what his high school literature taught him in the last verse of the American poet William Cullen Bryant's poem "Thanatopsis."
"So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."