John Basilone - Video Biography

This clip, incorporating historical footage from the U.S. National Archives and the Department of Defense, provides a video biography of John Basilone. 

On the 19th of February, 1945 - Iwo Jima's D-Day - Basilone and other members of the 5th Marine Division landed on the left side of Iwo Jima's beach.  By the time of fighting at Iwo Jima, Basilone (a Medal-of-Honor winner for conspicuous bravery and heroism at the earlier battle of Guadalcanal) was a Marine Gunnery Sergeant. 

The following month - on the 19th of March, 1945 - Time Magazine published an article on Basilone.  Among other things, it reports how he prevented the Japanese from recapturing the airfield at Guadalcanal:

John Basilone commanded two machine-gun emplacements. When one gun crew was wiped out, he rolled back & forth over the ground, firing first one gun, then the other, kept them chattering through the long night. When the guns got too hot, he used his pistol. When the ammunition got low, he went back through enemy fire for more. When the Japs gave it up, there were 38 dead in front of just one of John Basilone's emplacements. He and his handful of survivors had virtually annihilated a Jap regiment, had helped save Henderson Field.

For his extraordinary courage at Guadalcanal, Basilone won the Medal of Honor.  The same issue of Time reports how John notified his family about this development:

Not until the following June [of 1943] did his family hear from him again. Then came a letter on cheap note paper, in John's schoolboy hand: "I am very happy for the other day I received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award you can receive in the arm forces. . . . Tell Pop his son is still tough. Tell Don [his brother] thanks for the prayer they say in school for us. . . ."

Believing he was needed back home, to raise money for war bonds, Basilone's commander told John to pack his bag for the return trip.  The Marine wasn't happy about such a turn of events.  He wanted to stay and fight.

Back in the States, Doris Duke allowed her estate to be used for a huge home-coming.  Around 30,000 people welcomed John Basilone, the war hero:

On a bright September Sunday of 1943, John Basilone got his welcome home. At the estate of Doris Duke Cromwell, 30,000 assembled to greet Hero John—mayors, judges, ex-Governors and ex-Senators, and a movie star with upswept hairdo, who kissed John Basilone on the mouth. His picture stood in all the shop windows, alongside General MacArthur's. A portrait of John Basilone was hung in Town Hall.

John got a $5,000 war bond, and went off on a Treasury-conducted war bond tour. Marine officers who accompanied him found that Sergeant Basilone was still steady, modest about his honors, anxious to get back to his outfit.

"I'm becoming a museum piece," he said. "And what if some marines should land on Dewey Boulevard and Manila John [his nickname, earned for telling so many stories about his Army days in the Philippines] isn't among them?"

After pleading with his superiors, Basilone got his wish to return to "his boys."  Orders sent him to Iwo Jima, where he made the D-Day landing.

On Guadalcanal, Basilone battled to keep the island's airfield under Allied control.  At Iwo Jima, he was charged with leading a Marine assault team (from the 27th Regiment, 5th Division) to capture another Japanese-held airfield:  Motoyama. 

Ordering his men to quickly get off Iwo's beach - where they (and everyone else) were being pounded with withering firepower from hidden, dug-in Japanese defenders - Basilone was not far from the airfield when he was fatally wounded. 

The following month, Time reported how Basilone (who would win another medal for his courage at Iwo Jima) met his end:

When the first waves of marines went ashore on Iwo Jima, Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone was there, commanding an assault team of the 27th Regiment, 5th Division. By noon Medal-of-Honor man Basilone had his outfit on the edge of Motoyama airfield. There he met the shell that had his number on it. By nightfall John Basilone, a good marine, was dead.

In 2010, HBO is featuring the story of John Basilone in its mini-series, "The Pacific." 

He remains one of the most-decorated enlisted men in American history.


See, also:

Video:  John Basilone Selling War Bonds - Historical Footage

Video:  John Basilone Talks to the Press

Image and Bio:  Lena Riggi Basilone

Image:  John and Lena Basilone -  Wedding Photo

Video:  Death of John Basilone

Document:   Death of Lena Basilone

Video:  Robert Leckie - Historical Footage

Video:  Eugene ("Sledgehammer") Sledge - Historical Footage

Image and Brief Bio:  Merriell Snafu Shelton


Media Credits

Video clip - including historical battle footage from the U.S. National Archives,  John Basilone speaking, interviews and recreated scenes - is from HBO's promotional materials for "The Pacific."  Online, courtesy HBO's channel at YouTube.

Quoted passages, about John Basilone, from Time's March 19, 1945 edition.


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"John Basilone - Video Biography" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Jun 25, 2019.
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