Born in Buffalo, New York, on November 4, 1916, , 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. 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 and enlisted in the Army.
US Army and Marine Corps Career
Served in the US Army for three years in the Philippines and 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 fastest by joining the Marines and enlisted in July 1940 from Baltimore, Maryland and went to recruit training at Parris Island followed by training at Marine Corps Base Quantico and New River. He deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division and sent to Guadalcanal. His was nicknamed "Manila John" due to his service in the Philippines.
On Guadalcanal, Basilone was manning a forward position with a .30 caliber machine gun on a ridgeline east of Hill 80 on Bloody Ridge (Edson's Ridge). October 24, 1942 a Japanese regiment of approximately 3,000 soldiers attacked. For the next 48 hours Basilone and two other men from his squad were 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. During the continuous fighting, ammunition became critically low and supply lines were cut off and brought forward ammunition for his gunners. By the end of the battle, the attacking 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.
|Medal of Honor Citation
"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."
John Basilone machine gun position where he earned the Medal of Honor on Bloody Ridge
Stills from video by Justin Taylan, 2003
Return Home & War Bond Tour
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 made the national news. The Marine Corps denied his request and he was told he was needed more on the home front. He was offered a commission or assignment as instructor, but declined both.
He requested again to return to the war and his request was finally approved. He left for Camp Pendleton, California for training on December 27, 1943 and 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. Afterwards, he requested a return to the fighting in the Pacific theatre.
Basilone was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division during the invasion of Iwo
Jima. On Red Beach 2 he and his platoon were pinned down by enemy gunfire. He single-handedly destroyed an enemy blockhouse, allowing his unit to capture Motoyama No. 1 Airfield and later aided a friendly tank which was trapped in an enemy mine field under an intense mortar and artillery barrage. He guided the heavy vehicle over the hazardous terrain to safety, despite heavy weapons fire from the Japanese. As he moved along the edge of the airfield, an exploding mortar shell instantly killed him. Basilone was posthumously earned the Navy Cross for his actions on Iwo Jima.
|Navy Cross Citation
"For extraordinary heroism while serving as a Leader of a Machine-Gun Section, Company C, 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands, 19 February 1945. Shrewdly gauging the tactical situation shortly after landing when his company's advance was held up by the concentrated fire of a heavily fortified Japanese blockhouse, Gunnery Sergeant Basilone boldly defied the smashing bombardment of heavy caliber fire to work his way around the flank and up to a position directly on top of the blockhouse and then, attacking with grenades and demolitions, single handedly destroyed the entire hostile strong point and its defending garrison. Consistently daring and aggressive as he fought his way over the battle-torn beach and up the sloping, gun-studded terraces toward Airfield Number 1, he repeatedly exposed himself to the blasting fury of exploding shells and later in the day coolly proceeded to the aid of a friendly tank which had been trapped in an enemy mine field under intense mortar and artillery barrages, skillfully guiding the heavy vehicle over the hazardous terrain to safety, despite the overwhelming volume of hostile fire. In the forefront of the assault at all times, he pushed forward with dauntless courage and iron determination until, moving upon the edge of the airfield, he fell, instantly killed by a bursting mortar shell. Stouthearted and indomitable, Gunnery Sergeant Basilone, by his intrepid initiative, outstanding skill, and valiant spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of the fanatic opposition, contributed materially to the advance of his company during the early critical period of the assault, and his unwavering devotion to duty throughout the bitter conflict was an inspiration to his comrades and reflects the highest credit upon Gunnery Sergeant Basilone and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country."
Basilone was temporarily buried on Iwo Jima. His final resting place is Arlington National Cemetery, section 12, grave 384, grid Y/Z 23.5.
Memorials Dedicated To Basilone
In Raritan, New Jersey a memorial statue featuring him holding a 30 caliber machine gun is located at the intersection of Old York Road and Canal Street. It was sculpted by a childhood friend, Phillip Orlando and dedicated in 1948. The Raritan Public Library has the Basilone Room with memorabilia, photos and articles about him. The Bridgewater-Raritan High School playing field is named "John Basilone Field" in his honor. The new Bridge that crosses the Raritan River in Raritan at First Avenue and Canal Street is named in his honor.
The Knights of Columbus Council #13264 in Raritan is named in his honor. A bust in Little Italy San Diego at Fir & India Streets called "Piazza Basilone". Order Sons of Italy In America Lodge #2442 is named in honor of Sgt. John Basilone in Bohemia, New York. A plaque at the United States Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.
An overpass is named in his honor at the Somerville Circle in Somerville, New Jersey on U.S. Highway 202 and 206. The New Jersey Turnpike bridge across the Raritan River is named the "Basilone Bridge". The bridge ( on the NJ turnpike near the
Elizabeth exit that has a bronze plaque and is named in honor of Basilone.
USS Basilone (DD-824) launched on December 21, 1945 was sponsored by Sgt. Lena Mae Basilone, USMCWR, John Basilone's widow.
In California, Basilone Memorial Highway is a stretch of I-5 Highway between San Diego and Los Angeles near Camp
Pendelton. Also, there is a Basilone
Road nearer to the base.
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