Wednesday, October 24, 2012

TFH 10/24-25: Sergeant John Basilone, USMC

I blogged last year at this time about John Basilone, before it occurred to me that as a commemoration of the Second World War, I'd be blogging about every World War II Medal of Honor recipient on the 70th anniversaries of their heroic acts.

Basilone had served in the United States Army in the 1930s and returned to civilian life in 1939. He joined the United States Marine Corps in 1940 in hopes of getting back to the Philippines, where he had spent much of his Army service. It wasn't to be.

On October 24-25, 1942 - 70 years ago - as a Sergeant with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal during the Battle of Henderson Field, then-Sergeant Basilone commanded two machine gun sections that held off the attack of an entire Japanese regiment during the two-day battle. At the end, only John Basilone and two other Marines were left, and Basilone was reportedly fighting with just his M1911 pistol able to fire.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (A-F):


Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps. Born: 4 November 1916, Buffalo, N.Y. Accredited to: New Jersey. Other Navy award: Navy Cross. 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 machineguns, 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 guncrews, 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.

Basilone was welcomed home Stateside as a national hero and was used in recruiting and war bond sales efforts. He applied repeatedly to return to combat, and his request was finally granted. As a Gunnery Sergeant, he landed on Iwo Jima with the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division and was killed in action - but not before showing the true determination, fighting spirit, and courage that he showed two and a half years before on another Pacific Island. This time, his heroism was recognized with the Navy Cross.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone (MCSN: 287506), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty while serving as a Leader of a Machine-Gun Section, Company C, First Battalion, Twenty-Seventh Marines, FIFTH 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 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 married the former Lena Mae Riggi in 1944. She was also a Marine, and never remarried.

The USS Basilone (DD-824) was commissioned in the United States Navy with Lena Mae Basilone as the ship's sponsor on July 26, 1949. This Gearing-class destroyer served our nation until 1977.

John Basilone rests in peace among America's most-honored dead in Arlington National Cemetery. Lena Basilone, who passed away in 1999, rests in Riverside National Cemetery in California.

1st/27th Marines and the 5th Marine Division are today inactive, but Basilone's Guadalcanal unit, 1st Battalion/7th Marines is still part of the present 1st Marine Division. Their home station is the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California.

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