Some become heroes on a grass field, whose passion and talent burn eternal memories into the hearts of millions of people and write their names in the history books as legends. Others choose the battlefield, fight for the freedom of millions of people, and are willing to sacrifice their lives so that others can lead a fulfilled life. Sergeant John Basilone is one of the many great men who chose the battlefield and engraved their names as heroes in history. Let us learn more about him.
Who Was Sgt. John Basilone?
Sergeant John Basilone was born in Buffalo, New York as the sixth child of ten. His father, Salvatore Basilone, of Italian descent, is said to have moved to the United States in 1930 from Colle Sannita in Benevento, Italy. Unlike his father, his mother was born in Manville, New Jersey, in 1889. She also grew up in the city.
According to various records, John Basilone grew up in Raritan, Somerset County, New Jersey. His father settled there after his emigration. John attended St. Bernard Parochial School in Raritan. He dropped out of school as soon as he graduated high school and began working as a golf caddy before finally deciding to join the military.
It was in July 1934 when John enlisted in the United States Army. While serving in Manila, Philippines, he is said to have completed his three years in the army. Besides serving in his country in the Philippines, John developed a passion for boxing and eventually became a master boxer. On his return home, after being released from active duty, the boxer became a truck driver, but his new job did not give him any satisfaction and soon he nurtured the desire to return to Manila. To achieve this, he joined the Marines. That was in 1940, but then his wish to return to Manila was not fulfilled, because he was sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and then to Guadalcanal.
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Sgt. John Basilone is celebrated for his bravery, among other things, which he showed in Guadalcanal in October 1942 when his unit was attacked by Japanese fighters. History tells that after the Japanese forces’ frontal attack on the Americans, only Sergeant John Basilone and two other Marines remained in the section he commanded. Although he ran out of ammunition, he used his pistol and a machete to fight against the Japanese forces that attacked his unit. Since he was able to hold his own against the Japanese troops, Basilone was honored with the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest award for bravery.
His return to the United States was celebrated and widely publicized. He became a celebrity and used his status to raise money for the war effort. But despite his appreciation of the admiration he received, he wanted to be on the battlefield. From what we learned, the Marine Corps rejected his various requests to be sent back to the battlefield. In December 1943, John’s insistent request was granted, and sometime in July 1944, he was reinstated in the Marine Corps. Unfortunately, he died on the battlefield on February 19, 1945.
As might be expected, Sergeant John Basilone was honored by the military and the public with several awards. His time in the military was also the subject of various media projects.
His Wife and Family
Sergeant John Basilone met the woman (Lena Mae Riggi) whom he would later make his life companion while serving at Camp Pendleton. At that time Lena Mae Riggi also served as a sergeant in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve.
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As recorded, John and Lena developed a friendship that eventually led to their marriage on July 10, 1944, at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church in Oceanside, California. Apparently, what they shared was very unique. Although they had no child together, Lena refused to remarry after John’s death in 1945. In the meantime, she died on June 11, 1999, at the age of 86.
How Did He Die?
His return to the battlefield did not end well the second time. As the leader of the machine gun section during the Battle of Iwo Jima, Basilone again fought bravely against the Japanese forces. It is said that he single-handedly captured various enemy strongholds and exposed himself to the raging fire of the Japanese as he tried to capture a naval tank trapped in the Japanese minefield.
It is said that he was able to bring the tank to safety by unfortunately being hit by Japanese mortar shells. The gunnery sergeant died in battle on the first day of the Battle of Iwo Jima. Since his action helped the Marines penetrate the enemy defenses, he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the second-highest honor the Marine Corps can bestow for bravery.