by: Charley Norton
Maybe there is a place for those that didn’t fight for their country or be a part of something that changed the world. Maybe there is a place for those that tried but timing, good or bad luck (depending on how you look at it), or even the winds of fate intervened to separate a few that would remain, just to tell the story of those that did.
I’d like to think so and I’d like to think I may be one of those people. Maybe that is why over the years, I’ve logged back into my limited memory some exceptional people. People that one day I could tell their story, or at least parts of it. A story that also includes, through their recollection, the stories of those that are no longer here to tell them themselves.
This is for me, the most important thing I have ever done. And with that said, I’d like to tell you about another person of distinction we should all know and appreciate. What he did for love of country and the love of flight is an inspiration to anyone that loves their country and loves to fly.
I have often said that I should never be thanked for my service because the Air Force made me who I am today. This man is one who would agree with me from his own experience, as he sees it. Respectfully, he would be wrong.
His name is Page Enloe. No beans about it, this man served his country.
He was in harm's way many times (I was not). But he was doing something he loved and was with others that felt the same.
There are literally volumes of content that I am going to compress to only a few words which will not be enough but it will have to be enough for now. Basically, a parenthesis of content within the whole story, if you will. But, there will be more writings that I will make about this man and the memories he has of others that structured the making of Randolph County, as well as, the perils of war. It is a story that should be told and this is one of the last men, if not the last man, that can tell it. I am only a conduit, and proud to be one. Page’s literary co-pilot, if I’m worthy.
I am actually going to skip to the middle of his story, where Page left school (Clemson) to be in the new Army Air Corp. He took a test to be approved to go to flight school. A test he admittedly guessed through, but to his amazement, he aced only to find no more applicants were to be accepted.
This was 1941, before we got into the war, before our government was looking so hard for new pilots. But, with the help of an Army Sergeant, he was offered the chance to fly, if he made it to the recruiting station in the basement of the Ashville, N.C. Post Office by 5 pm that day. He hitched rides and made it just in time. Then his training began.
In his day, there was no basic training. Basic, to those that have not served, is one of physical aptitude and survival. Everyone, I thought, back then had to complete some kind of physical training. But pilots, Page told me, were held to a different standard (at least in the Army Air Corps). One much different than today, but for good reason. They needed pilots. The Army needed to get them trained and off to battle where they can fight. So the Army Pilots of WWII had no physical training, at all. Learn it, fly it, know it, and don’t get killed doing it was pretty much the Army’s stand on it.
Page obviously loved the air and was fiercely competitive, even when he was competing with himself. To be honest, I don’t think he has changed much even at 90+ years old.
Man has he shared some stories. Some I can tell that there is no room for, for now, and others I have been asked not to tell at all. But I do have one I can share and there are several folks that probably would love a little clarification. In other words… the rest of the story.
A legend in Roanoke, Alabama that dates back almost 70 years is that Page Enloe flew an airplane between the twin smokestacks at Handley Mills, where his father worked and managed. His dad, also Page Enloe, had an office facing the courtyard. The younger Enloe was stationed in South Alabama. Gas was in short supply back then so the pilots were only given enough fuel to fly for about 45 minutes. One day Page slipped $5 to the fuel guy (what I did when I was in) and got his plane filled up. He flew to Roanoke and on approaching the smokestacks, he realized they got closer at the top than his wingspan so, at the last second, he knife-edged the plane and got through them. He remembers the guy on the roof looking at him as he went by.
Well, as if that wasn’t enough, he did a couple rolls and climbed to around 12 thousand feet and from the skies above Woodland, he could see the smokestacks clearly (no pollution back then). At full throttle, he graduated a dive back toward Roanoke. At about 450 miles an hour, he flew across the front of the mill, in front of his dad's office, and was so low and fast that he temporarily laid down the oak tree out front (that still stands to this day).
Now that was in 1942, after we got into the war. And, of course his dad called the base commander and told him what his son did. When Page landed, he was informed to go straight to the base commander's office and after a good dressing down for what he did, Page asked the commander what plane number was reported that did this awful thing? Realizing that he had nothing without the aircraft identification, his commander had to let Page go not even thinking of the fact that he had flown way past the 45 minutes he should have had fuel for. No folks, he wasn’t grounded like the legend has always been told.
Okinawa was where Page ended up, with a few short stints in places like Guam, where he cleaned out the bank accounts of his peers in a friendly poker game or two. Another tale of truth being stranger than fiction is the time Page got sucked into Fujiyama, a giant snow capped volcano in Okinawa. The downforce of prevailing winds pushed him into it, but, of course, he made it out which is a good thing considering he wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place. He made it out of the volcano because he was (and is) an exceptional pilot and maybe he’s a little lucky, too. But his antics go on and on, just like his heroics.
Before the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the powerful 1500 horsepower P51’s in Okinawa spent their time attacking ground targets throughout Japan, along with the bombers. Page remembered the smell of the bodies below from inside his plane while flying way above the ground over those places that were burned from incendiary bombs that were dropped by the thousands. “Not even a blade of grass survived,'' he said. The bombings were unmerciful, but for good reason since the Japanese wouldn’t give up. Page said the Japanese soldier was a "fierce warrior..” “When they ran out of bullets, they would come out of caves and throw rocks at you. They would throw rocks!"' They wouldn’t stop until they were made to stop. He has much respect for the courage of those Japanese soldiers, who fought for their country, as we did ours.
I asked Mr. Enloe what he thought of the Japanese forgiveness of the United States after millions of their people were bombed and shot to death. That the Japanese found a way to let go of the hatred and seek peace and eventual friendship with the country that caused so much pain and death. I asked if the U.S. could have done the same. He didn’t think so and neither do I.
As his father and grandfather before him, Page came home from WWII to Roanoke in 1946 to work in the family business (Handley Mills). He did finish his schooling at Clemson, but then worked tirelessly in the business from then until he left it in the mid1960s. It wasn’t uncommon for Page to spend 16 hour days to keep the old plant running. One of his regrets is that he didn’t make time for a wife and family, but at the time, I’m sure, the business was his wife and its employees were his family. For him, time just slipped by, as time does. But, he will tell you in a second that he has had a great life.
Page feels a good boss or small business owner thinks more of their employees’ well-being than their own. Sometimes to a fault and with great sacrifice. It is the mark of a good person and Mr. Enloe is one of those people. Five minutes with him and I knew it, as well as, anyone that has had the privilege. But, Page does have a family of friends and those whose lives were guided by his influence that love and respect him more than any kids he could have made. He is the genuine article. If there was a silver spoon in his mouth when he was born, I’m sure he spit it out. He made his own way, in his own way and influenced countless people to do the same.
When all was said and done and he was out of the textile business, all he had was a little land, a few bucks and his good name. He used that to pull himself up and out of financial distress and I think that’s important for people to know. He earned the house on the hill that was built in 1901 and has been in his family since 1945. He has affected the lives of thousands of people here in Randolph County, many of which will never know. He has given so much to so many through business and generosity. I, also, feel the need to say this only because he wouldn’t and people should know.
To meet a truly selfless person is rare in any lifetime, but today especially. I am glad to say Page Enloe is that rarity in more ways than can be counted.
To be continued…