Belmont Club

Who saved GI Joe?

One of the actual models for the Hasboro action figure GI Joe was Marine Medal of Honor winner Mitchell Paige. Paige  who passed away in 2003, held a hilltop on Guadalcanal against more than a company of Imperial Japanese soldiers by manning each of the four machine gun positions in turn after everyone else had been killed. Paige tells the story of that frenzied Medal of Honor night, as each position was overrun and he finally held the ring alone here. What is particularly interesting is that he held back part of the story as he remembered it for years, fearing that he would not be believed. Several Japanese were headed for one of the unattended machine guns as he raced for it. In the next few moments he would live and they would die. Yet he believes it was not totally due to his skill and bravery that he survived. The part of the story he held back was that something unseen on that hill helped him.

Galvanized by the threat, I ran for the gun. From the gully area, several Japanese guns spotted me and swiveled to rake me with enfilading fire. The snipers in the trees also tried to bring me down with grenades, and mortars burst all around me as I ran to that gun. One of the crawling enemy soldiers saw me coming and he jumped up to race me to the prize. I got there first and jumped into a hole behind the gun. The enemy soldier, less than 25 yards away, dropped to the ground and started to open up on me. I turned the gun on the enemy and immediately realized it was not loaded. I quickly scooped up a partially loaded belt lying on the ground and with fumbling fingers, started to load it. Suddenly a very strange feeling came over me. I tried desperately to reach forward to pull the bolt handle back to load the gun, but I felt as though I was in a vise. Even so, I was completely relaxed and felt as though I was sitting peacefully in a park. I could feel a warm sensation between my chin and my Adam’s apple. Then all of a sudden I fell forward over the gun, loaded the gun, and swung it at the enemy gunner, the precise moment he had fired his full thirty-round magazine at me and stopped firing. For days later I thought about the mystery and somehow I knew that the ‘Man Above’ also knew what had happened. I never wanted to relate this experience to anyone, as I did not want to ever have anyone question it.

Just this year Penguin Canada published a book by John Geiger called the Third Man Factor. Geiger, a Governor of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and Chairman of the Society’s Expeditions Committee was fascinated by references in survival literature to the sensation among men in extreme danger of an unseen presence, and decided to write a book about it. He cites, among others, the well known story of Shackleton and his companions, who having escaped in an open boat from the wreck of their ship in the Antarctic, attempted to cross the South Georgia Mountains in extremis to reach the whaling station at Stromness. Shackleton and his companions were at the end of their tether when they felt they were joined by an unseen presence. Shackleton’s story is apparently not uncommon among survivors.

His admission resulted in other survivors of extreme hardship coming forward. In recent years well-known adventurers like clmber Reinhold Messner and polar explorers Peter Hillary and Ann Bancroft have reported the experience. One study of cases involving adventurers reported that the largest group involved climbers, with solo sailors and shipwreck survivors being the second most common group, followed by polar explorers. Proponents relate this to be the source of the Guardian angel belief. Various theories have been presented as possible explanations for the phenomenon, including psychological and neurological explanations, although religious observers suggest the reported cases are manifestations of a guardian angel. The concept was popularized by a book by John Geiger, The Third Man Factor, that documents scores of examples.

Shackleton’s story recalls TS Eliot’s verses in the Wasteland

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?

A physiological explanation for Third Man experience has been offered by Michael Persinger, who attributes the experience of a Third Man to an awareness of the left hemisphere of the brain of the receipt of signals from the right side. Julian Jaynes who wrote The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, argues that it is an awareness modern man has long learned to suppress; that in the past people often heard voices, saw visions and were inspired by the muses.

Jaynes asserts that until roughly the times written about in Homer’s Iliad, humans did not generally have the self-awareness characteristic of consciousness as most people experience it today. Rather, Jaynes argued that the bicameral individual was guided by mental commands believed to be issued by external “gods”—the commands which were so often recorded in ancient myths, legends and historical accounts; these commands were however emanating from individuals’ own minds. This is exemplified not only in the commands given to characters in ancient epics but also the very muses of Greek mythology which “sang” the poems: Jaynes argues that while later interpretations see the muses as a simple personification of creative inspiration, the ancients literally heard muses as the direct source of their music and poetry.

But something forgotten may be remembered, especially when the organism is fighting for survival. Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner argued in 1983 that humans had “multiple intelligences” — ways of knowing that were poorly studied. One of these he called “naturalistic” intelligence, which might best be described as the ability to apprehend the communication conveyed by subtle changes in the environment in ways still known, perhaps, to primitive people. Who can say whether men in extreme danger might not suddenly experience a sudden revival of “knowing” in a way they had long forgotten. What did Mitchell Paige experience that night on Guadalcanal? Since we can reach no conclusion, we’d best let Paige finish his story, from the point when reinforcements arrived and they drove the Japanese back.

The jungle was once again so still, that if it weren’t for the evidence of dead bodies, the agony and torment of the previous hours, the bursting terror of the artillery and mortars rounds and the many thousands of rounds of ammunition fired, it might only have been a bad dream of awful death. It was a really strange sort of quietness. As I sat down soaked with perspiration and steam still rising from my hot gun, Captain Louis Ditta, another wonderful officer who had joined the riflemen in the skirmish line and had earlier been firing his 60mm mortars to help me, slapped me on the back and as he handed me his canteen of water he kept saying, ‘tremendous, tremendous!’ He then looked down at his legs. We could see blood coming through his dungarees. He had a neat bullet hole in his right leg. There were hundreds of enemy dead in the grass, on the ridge, in the draw, and in the edge of the jungle. We dragged as many as we could into the jungle, out of the sun. We buried many and even blasted some of the ridge over them to prevent the smell that only a dead body can expel in heat. A corpsman sent by Capt. Ditta smeared my whole left arm with a tube of salve of some kind. He cleaned off the bayonet gash, since filled with dirt, and the bullet nicks on my hands also filled with dirt and coagulated blood. He stuck a patch on my back just below the shoulder blade. (In 1955, I felt something irritating in my back, and then had a piece of metal about 3/4 of an inch long removed from my back; right where the corpsman had placed that patch.) As the corpsman left he said, ‘You know, you have some pretty neat creases in your steel helmet.’ I replied: “Yes, thank God — Made in America.”

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