For most of his 24 years of service in the Air Force Sgt. Norman Page kept C-130 “Hercules,’ four-engine transport planes flying as a senior aviation mechanic and flight engineer or crew chief. After graduating from aviation mechanics training his first assignment, a Strategic Air Command mechanic at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa in the early 1950s. Before retiring from the service in 1975, Page had traveled the world in the Air Force while fixing airplanes and crewing in them.
As a young airman he got a look at Gen. Curtis LeMay, the hard-nose Strategic Air Command commander, up close and personal when he flew into McDill in 1953 in his remodeled, Boing KC-97 “Stratotanker,” with engine failure.
“I was working in the engine overhaul shop when LeMay flew in. He landed at 3 p.m. and said he had to leave by 9 a.m. the next morning,” Page recalled. “We worked all afternoon and until 3 a.m. the next morning to get the job done.
“We called the general at 3 a.m. and told him his airplane was ready to fly. His reply, ‘Thanks, but I won’t need it until day after tomorrow.'”
That was LeMay.
While stationed at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas in 1954 Page was taking basic flight engineering training when the Shah of Iran landed on base.
“He came to America looking for a girlfriend to marry. He found one and took her home to Iran.” he said with a smile. “When his Constellation touched down there were 29 Buicks and Chevys waiting for the Shah’s entourage. He was wearing a military uniform with a chest full of medals.”
After a parade on base for the leader of Iraq he went girlfriend hunting in the U.S.
Five years later Page was crew-chiefing aboard a C-130 flying over Iran, the pilot got instructions to land at a local base and pick up the shah’s chauffer-driven Mercedes and fly it elsewhere in the county.
“We landed, dropped the ramp and his big Mercedes was driven aboard the airplane. As we chained it to the deck out stepped the Shah who went up to the flight deck,” Page recalled half a century later.
It was 1957 or ’58 when Page took part in a SAC 100-day training exercise in Thule, Greenland. He was getting hands-on training as a flight engineer.
“We were out on a training flight one day near the North Pole and I noticed my instructor getting all fidgety.
‘What’s the problem?’ I asked him. ‘We don’t have any electronics and our radio equipment has failed. We’ve been lost for over an hour.” he replied.
“At the North Pole compasses are no good. They just spin. They don’t know what to do,” Page explained.
“We came down to about 75 feet above the water, spotted a U.S. radio station and signaled them somehow. They got us pointed in the right direction and we were picked up by other planes and guided back to base and landed without further incident.”
At the conclusion of his first four year hitch in the Air Force he told his superiors, “I joined the Air Force to see he world and all I’ve seen is the U.S.” Two weeks later he was headed to a U.S. Air Force base in Rhein-Mine, Germany.
“The time I spent in Germany was fabulous. I had a car over there and we would drive up and down the Rhine and enjoy it,” he said. “You could still see some of the destruction from World War II, but by then things in Germany were looking pretty good.
“The German Mark’s value was four marks to the dollar. You could get a good meal for $1. I was a 21-year-old sergeant having a good time in Germany.”
While flying out of Rhein-Mine in a C-130 around Europe, Page landed at Incirlik Air Force Base in Adania, Turkey. This is the base Gary Powers used when his U-2 spy plane was shot down by a Soviet missile over Russia in the 1960s causing an international incident.
“After that incident it was announced in the papers all U-2s had been removed from Europe and taken back to the U.S. Just after that we were told to be on the flight line one night about 9 p.m. to work on a U-2. We repaired it and the aircraft was put in a hanger and later used for surveillance over there some more,” he said.
Two C-130s from Rhein-Mine were flown back to McDill in 1962 to take part in the “Cuban Missile Crisis.” Page was a mechanic aboard one of the transports.
The U.S. blockaded Cuba and informed the Soviets they would have to remove their nuclear missiles from Cuba or risk a nuclear war. They caved and took out the missiles, but only after President John Kennedy agreed U.S. forces wouldn’t invade the island nation. In addition, the president ordered the nuclear missiles pointed at the Russians from the Turkish border quietly removed.
Page’s C-130 was one of the planes that kept an eye on the Soviet ships taking the offending missiles out of Cuba and transporting them back to Russia. He was performing aircraft maintenance duties on the plane at McDill, so he wasn’t actually in the air spying.
After his C-130 returned to Europe their crew was sent to France together with nine other transports to fly 500 Belgium paratroopers into the Congo to quell a native uprising.
“We flew to the Congo and dropped the paratroopers 500-feet off the ground. Their chutes popped open as their feet hit the ground,” Page said. “The Belgium commander told me, ‘We’re down here to fight. Drop them low so they hit the ground fast.
“Two days later the troopers won their little skirmish and we flew back in and picked them up. “We flew them back to Leopoldville.
“When we landed we found our airplane was full of bullet holes. There was a hole through a wing tank. One of our guys took a big rag, stuffed it in the hole and plugged it with a piece of broom stick. We flew home with it like that. When you’re in a war zone you do funny things.”
A few days later Page and his crew was involved in a flight that caused a sensation. They were ordered to fly to Stanleyville, Congo and rescue Dr. Paul Carlson, a California physician, who practiced medicine among the natives in the wilds of Africa.
A short time before the doctor was pictured on the front cover of Life magazine. He was shown working his wonders treating Congo natives.
“When we landed we found out Dr. Carlson had been murdered by the natives two days earlier. They killed him and 28 of his nurses and left their remains wrapped up in blankets lying on the ground,” Page said.
They flew the corpses out.
Calling it quits
“My last duty station was Loring Air Force Base in the boondocks of northern Maine,” Page said. “While there I kept trying to get reassigned to overseas, but every time the Personnel Office told me I had already been over seas on a number of occasions and others hadn’t.
“Finally I told the personnel people I’ve served 24 years in the Air Force and if you don’t send me overseas on my next assignment I’m getting out.”
They didn’t and he did.
About the same time Page said, “I found this beautiful lady and I chased her until she caught me.”
Norm and Patty got married shortly before he left the service. They moved to Port Charlotte, Fla. four years ago from Maine. They have four children: Darlene, Todd, Lorri and Steven.
Name: Norman Palmer Page
D.O.B: 14 Aug 1930
Hometown: Corinth, Maine
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 13 July 1957
Discharged: 31 August 1975
Rank: E-7 Master Sergeant
Unit: 464 Troop Carrier Wing
Commendations: Air Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Belgium Conflict – November 1964
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, March 25, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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Norman P. Page, 83, beloved husband, father and friend, of Port Charlotte, Florida, formerly of Bangor, Maine, went to be with the Lord on Monday, February 24, 2014.
He was born on August 14, 1930 in Corinth, Maine, to Gardiner Page and Martha Palmer Page. Norman held the rank of Master Sergeant, serving in the US Air Force during the Korean and Viet Nam Wars and retiring with over 24 years of service to his country. He was the recipient of the US Air Force Air Medal. He was a member of the FPC Veteran’s Group, American Legion, VFW, Shriners and Past Patron of the Eastern Star.
He was the husband of Patti Page of 37 years. She is known as the Bell Lady. He was the father of 4 children: Darlene Thurlow Deveau, Todd Jerome Thurlow, Lorri Page Wright and Gardiner Steven Page; and nine grandchildren: Gretchen, Samuel Norman, Logan, Brenna, Emma, Braedon, Dylan, Nathan and Claire. He was the brother of Helen Holt of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. He was preceded in death by his brother, Richard Page and granddaughter, Genevieve Grace Deveau.
Graveside services Friday, February 28, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. at Sarasota National Cemetery 9810 State Road 72 Sarasota, Florida with full Military Honors. Those wishing to travel with the funeral procession will need to be at Kays-Ponger & Uselton Funeral Home 2405 Harbor Blvd. Port Charlotte, Florida at 8:30 a.m.
There will be a Memorial Service following the graveside service Friday, February 28, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. at 1st Presbyterian Church, 2230 Hariet Street
Port Charlotte, Florida.
Please visit the online tribute for Norman P. Page at http://www.kays-ponger.com to sign the guest book and offer condolences.