Hoping to prevent his college education from being interrupted by the draft, Joseph Page decided in June 1941 to enlist in the military for one year. Less than seven months later, Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941.
“My one year became four years,” said Page, 91, of College Park. And those four years became 26 years, as he served in World War II, the Korean War and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Every Memorial Day, Page — who served as College Park’s mayor from 1993 to 1997 — recalls his service to the country by wearing his Army Corps of Engineers uniform and attending the city’s Veterans and Memorial Day events at the College Park Veterans Memorial. This year’s festivities include a musical performance by the College Park Youth Choir, laying of wreaths and a keynote address by former mayor Stephen Brayman.
“I suppose there’s a feeling of letting people know what you did and that it was useful,” Page said.
He called Memorial Day, which honors American soldiers who have died while in the line of duty, a “reminder of a whole lot of stuff” and a day that reminds him that he has been “a part of something that was important.”
Some of his memories from those days are happy ones.
“It was important. It gave you great feelings,” said Page, who spent most of his time in Europe, Japan and Korea working to repair construction equipment, including bulldozers and graders. “There was a lot of camaraderie we had in the service that I didn’t have in civilian life.”
But other memories are painful.
While serving in Korea, Page saw a mother who had frozen to death as she held a baby in her arms. The image still brings him to tears.
Even though he worked in combat zones “right on the edge of harm” and had weapons on him, Page said he does not remember ever firing his weapons at a specific person. His secondary mission was combat, and aside from a bout of malaria in Papua New Guinea in 1943, he never was hurt during his years in the military.
“If the infantry was overcome, we could come in to fight,” he said.
During his time stationed at Fort Belvoir, Page met his wife, Jane, now 87, at a dance in 1951. The couple married one year later and have three children.
Although he spent more than a quarter-century in the military, he didn’t forget his desire to finish his education. Nearly 20 years after he set out to do so, Page earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1960 and a bachelor of arts degree while in Tokyo in 1963.
After retiring in 1967 from the Army Corps of Engineers as a lieutenant colonel, he worked for the Department of Housing and Community Development in Baltimore until 1985.
Page continued his life of service as a College Park council member from 1985 to 1993, followed by a term as mayor.
“It was really fulfilling to me,” he said. “It got me involved in critical kinds of community participation. I think you need to participate in government and you need to help people that need help, and it’s really fulfilling to do something for the community.”
Andrew Fellows, the city’s current mayor, said Page’s temperament and “even-keeled nature” helped the city.
“He introduced the tone of being polite and respectful, even in times of disagreement,” Fellows said. Page “made an impact on many members of us who are elected officials.”
Page said one of his greatest accomplishments as a council member and mayor was improving the relationship between the university community and city residents.
“I told [students and university officials] our problems [specifically with loud music and parties] and listened to theirs,” he said. “We were at a stage where the council and University of Maryland were always at each other. We hardly talked to each other.”
Michael Jacobs, 68, of College Park, who also is a former councilman and mayor, praised Page’s efforts to help improve the relationship between the college and the city.
“He forged a better relationship with [the University of Maryland]. We both were committed to making the relationship between the university hierarchy and the city government work better,” said Jacobs, who was honorably discharged from the Army in 1970 as a first lieutenant. “We just decided that the only way you’re going to work with them constructively is to . . . not create adversaries of the university.”
Page is an active member of the Rotary Club of College Park and the National Museum of Language in College Park, and he reads to children at Paint Branch Elementary School in College Park.
“Wherever there’s a need, [that’s where] I try to be,” he said.
Jacobs said Page has a special fondness for College Park.
“Joe’s love for the city existed long before he was a member of the council and exists to this day,” Jacobs said. “He continues to be everyone’s number one good neighbor, and some of us haven’t had the staying power in that regard [that] Joe has.”