Giants Of The Corps: John Basilone

By Herb Richardson - Originally Published August 1975

"Manila John" Basilone was in the Marine Corps just four years. He fought with courage and determination that very few have been able to match. He was also the first enlisted Marine in World War II to win the Medal of Honor.

His early life was normal-no hints there of the deeds he would later perform. He was born in Buffalo, N.Y., on Nov. 4, 1916, and attended parochial school at Raritan, N.J.

His first encounter with military life came during a hitch in the Army, and a tour of duty at Manila, which served as the basis for his widely-known nickname.

Basilone joined the Marine Corps in July 1940, and saw duty at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Quantico, Va.; Parris Island, S.C.; and Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Then came Guadalcanal, where he served a night of fiery hell with the 1st Bn., 7th Marines in the Lunga Valley area.

Most of it came during the early morning hours of Oct. 25, 1942. Then LtCol "Chesty" Puller's battalion was set up in a defensive position along Edson's Ridge. They faced two regiments of crack Japanese troops in the south.

At 3 a.m., in a pouring rain, the enemy attacked. After a half hour of pitched battle at the final protective lines, there was a lull in the action. Puller got word that one of his companies was nearly out of ammunition. He replied, "You got bayonets, haven't you?"

Basilone, a machine gun section-leader, managed to keep his machine guns supplied with ammunition. Using a machine gun and a pistol, he piled up 38 dead around his position, and he was only there part of the time. Men cleared the area of enemy dead during lulls in the fighting, to keep an open field of fire.

His Medal of Honor citation tells part of the story: ". . . While the enemy was hammering at the Marines' defensive positions, Sgt Basilone, in charge of two 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 two 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 own 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 a large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment."

On Feb. 19, 1945 -D-Day at Iwo Jima-Basilone again put his life on the line in the face of intense enemy fire.

The Japanese were strongly entrenched on that Pacific island. They were dug into the cliffs with artillery. There were thousands of gun positions, with underground tunnels connecting them for mutual support-some of the tunnels 35 feet underground. Pillboxes and blockhouses were everywhere. They were reinforced with concrete. Three days of pre-invasion bombardment had failed to dull the edge of the Japanese defenders, each of whom had vowed to kill 10 Americans before dying.

Basilone lost his life during that invasion. He was cut down by a mortar round just after destroying a blockhouse singlehandedly.

For that action he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. He was attached to the 1st Bn., 27th Marines, Fifth Marine Division at the time of his death.

After the war, GySgt Basilone's remains were re-interred in the Arlington National Cemetery. A destroyer, the USS Basilone, was commissioned in his honor in 1949.

This Giant of the Corps, "Manila John" Basilone, in just four short years, by his courage and will to meet and defeat the enemy, bought an ever-enduring chapter in the annals of Marine Corps history. He paid for it with his life, and set a standard for courage to which only the very bravest can aspire.