I see where Paramount has announced an Aug. 10, 2012, release date for its upcoming sequel to the 2009 film “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” Jon Chu will direct the follow-up special effects extravaganza.
I reported back in 2007 that Hollywood had already decided a movie based on the Hasbro toy couldn’t be sold in the international market if the heroes were Americans. So Paramount simply turned Joe’s name into an acronym. The show biz newspaper Variety reported, “G.I. Joe is now a Brussels-based outfit that stands for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity, an international co-ed force of operatives who use hi-tech equipment to battle Cobra, an evil organization headed by a double-crossing Scottish arms dealer.”
No need to offend anyone by making our villains Arabs, Muslims, or foreign dictators of any stripe these days, though apparently Presbyterians who talk like Scotty on “Star Trek” are still OK.
Well, who cares? G.I. Joe is just a toy, right? He was never real. Right?
On Nov. 15, 2003, an 85-year-old retired Marine Corps colonel died of congestive heart failure at his home in La Quinta, Calif., southeast of Palm Springs. He was a combat veteran of World War II. His name was Mitchell Paige.
It’s hard today to envision — or, for the dwindling few, to remember — what the world looked like on Oct. 25, 1942 — 69 years ago.
The U.S. Navy was not the most powerful fighting force in the Pacific. Not by a long shot. So the Navy basically dumped a few thousand lonely American Marines on the beach at Guadalcanal and high-tailed it out of there.
The Marines struggled to complete an airfield that could threaten the Japanese route to Australia. Admiral Yamamoto knew how dangerous that was. Before long, relentless Japanese counterattacks had driven the supporting U.S. Navy from inshore waters. The Marines were on their own.
As Platoon Sgt. Mitchell Paige and his 33 riflemen set about carefully emplacing their four water-cooled .30-caliber Brownings on that hillside, 69 years ago this week — manning their section of the thin khaki line that was expected to defend Henderson Field against the assault of the night of Oct. 25, 1942 — it’s unlikely anyone thought they were about to provide the definitive answer to that most desperate of questions: How many able-bodied U.S. Marines does it take to hold a hill against 2,000 armed and motivated attackers?
But by the time the night was over, “The 29th (Japanese) Infantry Regiment has lost 553 killed or missing and 479 wounded among its 2,554 men,” naval historian David Lippman reports. “The 16th (Japanese) Regiment’s losses are uncounted, but the 164th’s burial parties handled 975 Japanese bodies. … The American estimate of 2,200 Japanese dead is probably too low.”
You’ve already figured out where the Japanese focused their attack, haven’t you? Among the 90 American dead and seriously wounded that night were all the men in Paige’s platoon. Every one. As the night of endless attacks wore on, Paige moved up and down his line, pulling his dead and wounded comrades back into their foxholes and firing a few bursts from each of the four Brownings in turn, convincing the Japanese forces down the hill that the positions were still manned.
The citation for Paige’s Medal of Honor picks up the tale: “When the enemy broke through the line directly in front of his position, P/Sgt. Paige, commanding a machine gun section with fearless determination, continued to direct the fire of his gunners until all his men were either killed or wounded. Alone, against the deadly hail of Japanese shells, he fought with his gun and when it was destroyed, took over another, moving from gun to gun, never ceasing his withering fire.”
In the end, Sgt. Paige picked up the last of the 40-pound, belt-fed Brownings and did something for which the weapon was never designed. Sgt. Paige walked down the hill toward the place where he could hear the last Japanese survivors rallying to move around his flank, the belt-fed gun cradled under his arm, firing as he went.
Coming up at dawn, battalion executive officer Major Odell M. Conoley was the first to discover how many able-bodied United States Marines it takes to hold a hill against two regiments of motivated, combat-hardened infantrymen who have never known defeat.
On a hill where the bodies were piled like cordwood, Mitchell Paige alone sat upright behind his 30-caliber Browning, waiting to see what the dawn would bring.
The hill had held, because on the hill remained the minimum number of able-bodied United States Marines necessary to hold the position.
And that’s where the unstoppable wave of Japanese conquest finally crested, broke, and began to recede. On an unnamed jungle ridge on an insignificant island no one ever heard of called Guadalcanal.
When the Hasbro Toy Co. called some years back, asking permission to put the retired colonel’s face on some kid’s doll, Mitchell Paige thought they must be joking.
But they weren’t. That’s his mug, on the Marine version of the action figure they call G.I. Joe. At least, it has been up till now.
But don’t worry. It’s far more important for our new movies not to offend anyone in Cairo or Karachi or Paris or Palembang.
After all, it’s only a toy. It doesn’t mean anything.
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal and author of the books “Send in the Waco Killers” and “The Black Arrow.” A version of this column first appeared in this space in 2007.