John Basilone is considered one of the greatest Marines to have ever served this country. He grew up in Raritan, New Jersey, but he was born to be a soldier. If you were to ask any past or present Marine about Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone, they will be able to rattle off facts from memory; such is his enduring legend.
Basilone served three years in the Army during the 1930s, but it would not be until he enlisted in the Marine Corps and the country’s subsequent plunge into World War II, that he would reach mythical standing. On the night of October 24, 1942, in the jungles of Guadalcanal, one of the hundreds of islands that comprise the Solomons, then Sgt. Basilone was commanding two heavy .30-caliber machine gun sections that were tasked with holding a narrow pass at the Tenaru River.
As the small crews of Marines dug in for the night, a Japanese regiment numbering 3,000 men attacked the line, hammering the Marines with grenades and mortar fire. Wave after wave were kept at bay by the small teams of Marines, until one of the gun crews was disabled by enemy fire. Basilone carried 90 pounds of weaponry and ammunition to the silenced gun pit, running a distance of 200 yards through enemy fire and encountering Japanese soldiers along the route, who he killed with his Colt .45 pistol. Basilone continued running back and forth between gun pits, supplying ammunition to those desperately in need and clearing gun jams for his junior Marines.
During the height of the battle, Basilone barehanded the searing barrel of his machine gun without hesitation and continued putting rounds downrange, killing an entire wave of Japanese soldiers and burning his hands and arms in the process. By the time reinforcements arrived, only Basilone and two other Marines were left standing. Basilone used his machine guns to eliminate countless enemies, but also engaged in hand to hand combat in the two days and nights, without sleep, food or rest.
Basilone was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and was offered a commission, plus the chance to spend the rest of the war in Washington, Dc. He turned it down, opting instead to return to combat.
On February 19, 1945, Basilone stormed Red Beach on Iwo Jima. Pinned down by enemy machine gun fire, he led his gunners up the steep black sand. Minutes after destroying a Japanese blockhouse, Basilone and four members of his platoon were killed when an enemy artillery shell exploded. He was only 28 years old. Gunnery Sgt. Basilone would be posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy Cross for his actions on Iwo Jima. He was the first U.S. Marine of enlisted rank to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II. He was also the only enlisted Marine to earn the Navy Cross posthumously.