Death of Lena Basilone

Death of Lena Basilone - Preview Image

This is the obituary of Lena Basilone.  It tells us that she never remarried, after the Iwo Jima death of her husband, John Basilone.  Lena was 86 years old when she died on the 11th of June, 1999.

Before her death, the federal government had offered Lena a burial spot in Arlington Cemetery, not far from the location where her husband is interred.  Lena turned down the offer, reportedly saying that "she didn't want to cause trouble for everyone." 

Instead, she is interred at Riverside National Cemetery, Plot 50 0 5557 in Riverside, California. 

Here is the text of the article:

(Originally Printed) WEDNESDAY. JUNE 16, 1999


Ex-Marine Lena Basilone dies

Obituary:  Services Wednesday for longtime Lakewood resident.  Lena Basilone, former Marine, tireless volunteer and wife of America's first Word War II Medal of Honor recipient, died Friday. She was 86.

Lena Mae Riggi was born March 7, 1916 in Portland, Ore. to Italian Sicilian immigrants. After leaving Oregon, she attended business school. When WWII broke out, she found herself enlisted in the Marine Corps, stationed at Camp Pendleton. "She served as a field cook (on the base), and her title was Sergeant," said Barbara Garner, longtime friend and roommate.  "Her attitude was 'I can do anything they (men) can do.' "

It was during this time that she caught the eye of a decorated Marine, a man who was the United States' first WWII war hero. His name was John Basilone. John had been stationed in the Pacific theater of the war. After defending a narrow pass and annihilating an entire enemy regiment on the island of Guadalcanal in 1942, John was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The medal is the United States' top honor for war-time duties.

John returned home to ticker-tape parades and instant nationwide fanfare. He went across the country, mingled with the president, met movie stars and helped raise $1.4 million in War Bonds. He was even offered a commission and a position in Washington. However, John was not complacent hanging around desks and smiling for the cameras and his reaction to the Washington job was:

"I ain't no officer, I ain't no museum piece and I belong back with my outfit.” 

So back into action he went.

But before he left, a romance blossomed between him and Lena. "They met at Camp Pendleton. He was very charming, good-looking, yet tough. He was a man of honor and quite a hero. All the ladies thought he was a very good man," said Barbara. On July 7, 1944 the couple wed. After a short, happy time together, John headed back to the war-torn South Pacific. It was there that John died, in an exchange of heavy gunfire on the island of Iwo Jima. The date was February 19, 1945. "Lena was notified of Johnny's death on March 7, 1945. It was her (32nd) birthday," said Barbara.

For his selfless dedication to his country, John was awarded the Purple Heart and Nary Cross posthumously.

In 1949, Lena christened a Navy destroyer ship, named the USS Basilone. Years later, the city of Raritan, N J. erected a statue in his honor.

Lena never remarried and was content with her life. She once told Barbara: "Once you have the best, you can't settle for less." She purchased a home in Lakewood and stayed there for over 50 years until her death.

"Lena had a large network of friends, she was active in many organizations and she was a terrific cook," said Barbara, "She enjoyed inviting a large group over and cooking them a special meal (for Thanksgiving and other holidays)."

Lena stayed active by working at an electrical company, volunteering at the Long Beach Veterans Hospital, the American Veterans Auxiliary and the Women's Marine Association. She also was a faithful member of the Liberty Baptist Church of Long Beach.

"She was a very determined lady, loved by many ... when she saw a need, she would go about filling it," said Barbara.

One important event that Lena never lived to see was the dedication of a 17-mile stretch of the San Diego (5) Freeway near Camp Pendleton, to be named 'Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone Memorial Freeway.' The official word that the resolution passed came Monday, just three days after her death.

"The (newer generation of) Marines don't know who he was," said Frank Turiace, former U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant and decorated Korean War veteran, wanted to change that," With the help of state Sen. Bill Murrow, Turiace set out on a mission to make sure that John is never forgotten." He (Murrow) was very instrumental in putting this through ... he has the connections," said Turiace.

"This stretch (of highway) is to honor John and Lena." Although the federal government offered to bury Lena in Arlington National Cemetery near her husband, she refused because "she didn't want to cause trouble for everyone." Services are set for 2 p.m. Wednesday at Hunter Perez Mortuary, 5443 Long Beach Blvd.

Local Marines will provide a bugler and pallbearers. A private service will follow at Veterans Administration National Cemetery in Riverside.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Veterans of WWII Association.

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Credits

Obituary of Lena Basilone, from the Long Beach Press-Telegram's June 16, 1999 edition.  Online, courtesy John Basilone Stamp Campaign.

 

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