John Basilone

Heroic. Marine. Brave. Leader. Determined. Consistent. Selfless. Any one of these words can be used to describe John Basilone. But where did his life start?

John Basilone was born on November 4, 1916, in Buffalo, New York, and was the 6th out of 10 children. Basilone’s early life was marked by modest beginnings. He grew up in a working-class Italian American family and faced economic challenges during the Great Depression. Despite these difficulties, he developed a strong work ethic and a sense of responsibility. Qualities that remained with him through his life.

Basilone’s life took a significant turn when he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1940. He quickly demonstrated his natural aptitude for leadership and a fierce determination to excel. He completed his training and soon found himself in the Pacific Theatre.  He served in the Philippines and other Pacific assignments before finding himself on the front lines during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. It was during this campaign that he demonstrated unparalleled courage and leadership that would lead to his fame.

His actions during the Battle of Guadalcanal were truly remarkable. Assigned to defend a narrow defensive line against waves of Japanese attacks, Basilone held his ground despite being outnumbered and under heavy fire. On the night of October 24, 1942, Basilone was responsible for commanding two heavy .30-caliber machine gun sections that had the task of holding a narrow pass at Tenaru River. A Japanese regiment that numbered 3,000 men began to attack the small crews of Marines as they dug in for the night with grenades and mortar fire. The Marines successfully held off the attack until one gun crew was disabled by enemy fire.

Basilone’s heroism did not go unnoticed. He was awarded the Medal of Honour, amongst other medals, for his actions during the Battle of Guadalcanal. As Basilone’s Medal of Honour citation notes explain, Basilone carried roughly 90 pounds of weaponry and ammunition to the disabled gun pit, running a distance of 200 yards through enemy fire with total disregard for his own life. As he ran, Basilone killed several Japanese soldiers with his Colt .45 pistol.

He was given the option of President Roosevelt bestowing the Medal of Honour, but he declined and requested it be given ‘in the field with his unit. Basilone said “Only part of this medal belongs to me. Pieces of it belong to the boys who are still on Guadalcanal.”

He returned to the United States and embarked on a war bond tour to raise funds for the war effort, becoming a celebrity in the process. However, he soon felt a strong sense of duty to return to combat.

During training before he came back to combat, he met and fell in love with Lena. They were married in July 1944. In 1945, Basilone returned to the Pacific theatre, this time to Iwo Jima. He was now a Gunnery Sergeant and was tasked with leading his men through the intensity of the battle to capture the island from the Japanese. Tragically, on February 19, 1945, John Basilone was killed in action while attempting to resupply his machine gunners during heavy enemy fire.

Basilone’s legacy lives on as an embodiment of selfless service and unwavering dedication. He remains an inspiration to Marines and all Americans, a reminder of the sacrifices made during times of conflict. His story has been celebrated in various ways, including books, documentaries, and a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Basilone, named in his honour. His bravery, leadership, and sacrifice continue to be honoured, serving as a testament to the resilience of those who serve in the military. His name is forever etched in the annals of history, reminding us of the extraordinary individuals who stand up to protect freedom and defend their nation.

The “real” John Basilone as remembered by fellow Marine Sid Phillips