By Elizabeth BehringFebruary 12, 2018
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The year was 1947, and the United States was still recovering after the effects of World War II when Emmett Paige Jr. decided he wanted to join the Army.
The issue? He was only 16 years old, but that minor detail was not going to stop him.
Paige dropped out of school and found himself reporting to Basic Combat Training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, now known as Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. As an African-American, the young Soldier faced extreme diversity, as President Harry S. Truman had not yet signed Executive Order 9981, which called for the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces on July 26, 1948.
Though the odds were stacked against him from the beginning, Paige achieved a perfect score on the Army's Morse code exam, and as a result was selected to join the ranks of the Signal Corps. Little did he know at the time that move would spark the flame for a long journey within the Corps.
Paige was posthumously inducted into the Army Materiel Command's Hall of Fame during a ceremony attended by six former AMC commanders at AMC Headquarters, Feb. 6, 2018. Paige was also inducted into the inaugural U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command Hall of Fame during a ceremony at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, April 7, 2016.
"To be just as good would cause me to be considered below average," Paige is quoted as once saying. "So I worked harder. I studied harder. I tried to be sure that I knew my job and everybody else's job. I read everything I could get my hands on. I survived by being the best."
Paige's hard work and perseverance paid off, when, in 1952, he commissioned as a Signal Corps officer and embarked on a career that would span more than two decades and impact the lives of many.
Nearly all of Paige's career was in mentoring and leading troops, at every level, from Signal platoon leader at Fort Bliss, Texas, to serving as battalion commander of the 361st Signal Battalion in the Republic of Vietnam.
As a colonel, Paige led the effort to engineer, design, build and field the Army's complete communications system for all of Southeast Asia, today credited as the foundation of Army communication during the Vietnam War era.
But it was as a general officer that Paige would really make his mark. Paige is the only person to have commanded four separate organizations that are part of CECOM's legacy, and, in 1976, he became the first African-American Signal Corps officer in Army history to be promoted to the rank of brigadier general.
Between that year and 1988, when Paige retired after more than 41 years in uniform, he served as the senior leader of four organizations that are significant to the history of present-day CECOM.
As a brigadier general, he was dual-hatted as the commanding general of the Communications Systems Agency and the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Engineering and Installation Agency. Part of CSA later became the Systems Management Center, which was absorbed into CECOM, and USACEEIA is under CECOM today, as well.
In addition, as a major general, Paige served as the commanding general of the Communications Research and Development Command, then as the commanding general of the Electronics Research and Development Command, which were both split from CECOM when the Army reorganized. Those Research and Development commands were comprised of project managers and Army laboratories. The Army reorganized again later, and the laboratories returned to CECOM.
Paige, who served more than 12 years as a general officer, concluded his active-duty career as the commanding general of the Army's Information Systems Command, where he led efforts to further modernize the Army's communication capabilities and to ensure all signal equipment deployed worldwide with warfighting units were maintained.
Though he retired in 1988, Paige's influence on the signal world did not end. From 1993 to 1997, he served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, and he spent countless time and effort in the defense industry providing products and services that supported the Signal Soldier.
Paige passed away in his Fort Washington, Maryland, home Aug. 31, 2017.