John F Basilone

John F Basilone

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John was born on the 4th of November, 1916 in Buffalo, New York, to an Italian family with ten children. John's five older siblings were born in Raritan, New Jersey before the family moved to Buffalo and when John was born, the family moved back to Raritan. He went to St Bernard Parochial School and once John completed middle school, he dropped out of school and went to work as a golf caddy at a local country club. In June of 1934, John enlisted in the US Army at the age of 17 and was assigned to the 16th Infantry Division at Fort Jay, New York. During his three year enlistment, he spent time in the Philippines and once released from active duty, John went home and drove truck in Maryland. Eventually, John wanted to return to the Philippines and he thought that he could get there faster by joining the Marine Corps, which he did in 1940.

John went to recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Paris Island and additional training at Quantico and New River. He was sent to Guantanamo Bay and then Guadalcanal with Company D, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. It was his actions during the Battle for Henderson Field that would earn him the Medal of Honor. The citation reads:

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action against enemy Japanese forces, above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division in the Lunga Area, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 24 and 25 October 1942. While the enemy was hammering at the Marines' defensive positions, Sgt. BASILONE, in charge of 2 sections of heavy machine guns, fought valiantly to check the savage and determined assault. In a fierce frontal attack with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and mortar fire, one of Sgt. BASILONE'S sections, with its gun crews, was put out of action, leaving only 2 men able to carry on. Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived. A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. BASILONE, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. His great personal valor and courageous initiative were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Not mentioned in the citation was when the last of the ammunition ran out just before dawn on the second day, John used his pistol and machete to hold off the Japanese soldiers that were attacking his position. He received the Medal of Honor from Major General Alexander Vandegrift, who would also receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Guadalcanal. Shortly after, John was sent home to the states to go on a war bonds tour to help raise money for the war effort. He received a homecoming parade on the 19th of September, 1943 and made national press. John became a celebrity as he toured around the country but the fame wasn't what he wanted and soon he requested to return to the fight. His request was denied because he was seen as a bigger asset at home  and he was even offered a commission but he turned it down. Another request was finally granted and John reported to Camp Pendleton in California on the 27th of December. He reenlisted the following July and while stationed at Pendleton, he met Lena Mae Riggi. She was a sergeant in the Marine Corps Women's Reserve and they married on the 10th of July, 1944.

After their honeymoon on an onion farm in Portland, Oregon, John was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division. They were part of the invasion of Iwo Jima on the 19th of February, 1945. On this day, John was a machine gun section leader on Red Beach II and he single-handedly destroyed an entire enemy strong point and its defending garrison with grenades and demolitions. He then aided a Marine tank trapped in an enemy mine field on Airfield Number 1 while the enemy sent in mortar and artillery barrages. It was here that he was killed by Japanese mortar shrapnel as he moved along the edge of the airfield.

Because of his actions, the Marines were able to get off the landing beach during the invasion. His actions earned him the Navy Cross, making him the only Marine to receive both the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross during World War 2. This normally the part where I mention all of the namesakes and honors that were given. However, if I were to write them all out, the list would take up almost an entire page. Roads, landing zones, ships, homes, schools, bridges, and libraries all bear his name. Part of his story was shown during the HBO mini series, The Pacific in 2010. His wife, Lena, never remarried and she died on the 11th of June, 1999 at the age of 86 and John Francis Basilone is buried in Arlington National Cemetery; section 12, grave 384.

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