If you have been watching HBO's The Pacific then you have heard of John Basilone by now. He is one of the main characters on the show and one of Chesty Puller's favorite non-comms. I thought that I would share with you some of the information I have found on Sgt. Basilone. Enjoy!
Jon Seda plays John Basilone in HBO's The Pacific
Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone (November 4, 1916 – February 19, 1945) was a United States Marine who received the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II. He was the only enlisted Marine in World War II to receive the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.
He served three years in the United States Army with duty in the Philippines before joining the Marine Corps. In 1940 he joined the Marine Corps and after attending training was sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Solomon Islands and eventually to Guadalcanal where he held off 3,000 Japanese troops after his 15-member unit was reduced to two men. He was killed in action on the first day of the Battle of Iwo Jima, after which he was posthumously honored with the Navy Cross. He has received many honors including being the namesake for streets, military locations and a United States Navy destroyer.
John Basilone Monument
Basilone was born at home on November 4, 1916 in Buffalo, New York, the sixth of ten children. His father, Salvatore Basilone emigrated from just outside Naples, Italy in 1903, when he was 19 and settled in Manville, New Jersey. His mother Dora Bengivenga was born in 1889 and grew up in Manville but her parents, Carlo and Catrina also came from Naples. His parents met at a church gathering and after dating for three years they got married and lived with Dora's parents while saving money to get their own place. He went to St. Bernard Parochial School in Raritan and after completing school when he was fifteen he dropped out prior to attending high school.
Basilone and Seda
He worked as a golf caddy for the local country club before joining the military. He enlisted in the United States Army and completed his three-year enlistment with service in the Philippines, where he was a champion boxer. Upon returning home he worked as a truck driver in Reisterstown, Maryland. After driving trucks for a few months he wanted to go back to Manila and believed he could get there faster as a Marine than in the army. He enlisted in the Marines in July 1940 from Baltimore, Maryland and went to recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island followed by training at Marine Corps Base Quantico and New River. The Corps sent him to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for his next assignment and then to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands as a member of 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division.
Basilone artwork by C.C. Beall used to sell War Bonds
While on Guadalcanal his fellow Marines gave him the nickname "Manila John" due to his former service in the Philippines. On October 24, 1942 his unit engaged the Japanese in the Lunga area when their position came under attack by a regiment of approximately 3,000 soldiers. The Japanese forces began a frontal attack using machine-guns, grenades and mortars against the American heavy machine-guns. The American forces fought for the next 48 hours until only Basilone and two other men from his squad were still able to continue fighting. Basilone moved an extra gun into position and maintained continual fire against the incoming Japanese forces. He repaired another machine-gun and personally manned it, holding the defensive line until replacements arrived. With the continuous fighting, ammunition became critically low and supply lines were cut off. Basilone fought through hostile lines and returned with urgently needed ammunition for his gunners. By the end of the battle, the Japanese regiment was virtually annihilated. For his actions during this battle he received the United States military's highest award for bravery, the Medal of Honor.
Chesty Puller leading his men to the be decorated
Afterwards Private First Class Nash W. Phillips, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, recalled him from the battle for Guadalcanal: "Basilone had a machine gun on the go for three days and nights without sleep, rest or food". "He was in a good emplacement, and causing the Japs lots of trouble, not only firing his machine gun but also using his pistol."
After receiving the Medal of Honor he returned to the United States and participated in a war bond tour. His arrival was highly anticipated and publicized and his hometown held a parade in his honor when he returned. The homecoming parade occurred on Sunday, September 19, 1943 and drew a huge crowd with thousands of people, including politicians, celebrities, and the national press. The parade made national news in Life magazine and Fox Movietone News. After the parade he toured the country raising money for the war effort and achieved celebrity status. He appreciated the admiration but felt out of place and wanted to return to life as a Marine so he requested to go back to the war. The Marine Corps denied his request and he was told he was needed more on the home front. He was offered a commission, but he turned it down and later offered an assignment as an instructor but refused it as well. He requested again to return to the war and this time the request was approved. He left for Camp Pendleton, California for training on December 27, 1943. While stationed at Camp Pendleton he met his future wife Lena Mae Riggi, a Sergeant in the Marine Corps Women's Reserve. They were married at St. Mary's Church in Oceanside on July 10, 1944, with a reception at the Carlsbad Hotel. They honeymooned at her parents' onion farm in Portland. He requested a return to the fighting in the Pacific theatre.
The Medal Of Honor
After his request to return to the fleet was approved he was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division during the invasion of Iwo Jima. On February 19, 1945 he was serving as a machine-gun section leader in action against Japanese forces on Red Beach II. During the battle, the Japanese concentrated their fire at the incoming American troops from heavily fortified blockhouses staged throughout the island. With his unit pinned down, Basilone made his way around the side of the Japanese positions until he was directly on top of the blockhouse. He then attacked with grenades and demolitions, single handedly destroying the entire hostile strong point and its defending garrison. He then fought his way over toward Airfield Number 1 and later aided a friendly tank which was trapped in an enemy mine field under intense mortar and artillery barrages. He guided the heavy vehicle over the hazardous terrain to safety, despite heavy weapons fire from the Japanese forces. As he moved along the edge of the airfield, an exploding mortar shell instantly killed him. For his actions during the battle of Iwo Jima he was posthumously approved for the Marine Corps' second highest decoration for bravery, the Navy Cross.
The Navy Cross Medal
His body was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia and his grave can be found in Section 12, Grave 384, grid Y/Z 23.5.
Basilone Grave -- More pictures here Find A Grave
The United States Navy named a Gearing-class destroyer the USS Basilone in 1949. The ship was laid down on July 7, 1945 in Orange, Texas and launched on December 21, 1945. His widow, Sergeant Lena Mae Basilone sponsored the ship.
Basilone's widow christens the USS Basilone
In addition to the honors bestowed to him from the Marine Corps a wide variety of non military institutions have also chosen their name based on Basilone. Some of these include: The football field at Bridgewater-Raritan High School is called "Basilone Field", and on the wall of the fieldhouse next to the field is a mural honoring Basilone; the Knights of Columbus Council #13264 in his hometown is named in his honor; An overpass at the Somerville Circle in Somerville, New Jersey on U.S. Highway 202 and 206 that goes under it; The New Jersey Turnpike bridge across the Raritan River is named the "Basilone Bridge"; The new Bridge that crosses the Raritan River in Raritan at First Avenue and Canal Street; A memorial statue featuring him holding a heavy machine gun is located at the intersections of Old York Road and Canal Street in Raritan, New Jersey. It was sculpted by a childhood friend, Phillip Orlando; A plaque at the United States Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.; A bust in Little Italy San Diego at Fir & India Streets. The war memorial is dedicated to residents of Little Italy who served in WWII & Korea. The area is called Piazza Basilone; Order Sons of Italy In America Lodge #2442 is named in honor of Sgt. John Basilone in Bohemia, New York. The Raritan Public Library has the Basilone Room where they keep memorabilia about him. (source wiki )
Article on John Basilone
Here is a seven Minute video on Basilone
Hero of the Pacific: The Life of Marine Legend John Basilone
I'm Staying with My Boys: The Heroic Life of Sgt. John Basilone, USMC
More info on Lena Riggi Basilone