We The Italians | Great Italians of the Past: John Basilone

Great Italians of the Past: John Basilone

Great Italians of the Past: John Basilone

  • WTI Magazine #106 Aug 19, 2018
  • 4126

John Basilone was one of the most heroic and acclaimed Italian-Americans in the story of the United States. He was the only Marine to be awarded with the two highest honors of the U.S. Army: the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. 

John was born in Buffalo on November 4, 1916, by Italian immigrants whose heritage was in the Sannio, a part of Campania region, in the southern Italy. After enlisting in the American army in 1934, he was deployed to the Philippines. During that experience he already shows his worth on battlefield, his dedication and his patriotism. When he comes back from South-East Asia, his nickname is "Manila John".

In 1940 he enlists in the Marine Corps and after his training camp he chooses the first Division in the Solomon Islands and Guadalcanal. It will be in Guadalcanal that John Basilone will show all his courage, so much to be decorated with the highest award.

In the night between October 24 and 25, 1942, the unit led by Basilone is attacked by a regiment of about 3,000 Japanese soldiers. Thus began a battle which will last 48 hours. While the Japanese are advancing, Basilone all by himself travels along the American defensive line, continuously moving the fire of the machine-gun, to maintain this line effective. When the Marines find themselves with very few ammunition and there is nothing to be done against the advancing Japanese, John Basilone once again completely alone, decides to penetrate the enemy lines to steal ammunition for his comrades. The amazing endeavor of John allows the Americans to hold the defensive line until the arrival of reinforcements.

The commitment, the courage, the challenge to the risk of being hit by Japanese grenades will earn him the Medal of Honor. When he returns home as a hero, after the experience of Guadalcanal, Basilone does everything to get back to the front. Assigned to the 5th Division during the invasion of Iwo Jima, on February 19, 1945 he is among the first to touch the shore of the island. Basilone decides to bypass the fire of the Japanese, who are shooting at the Americans from their forts within the besieged island. He succeeds, with his unit, to circumvent the line of fire, and to reach and destroy the Japanese bunkers with grenades. Tireless, he then heads to an airfield where a U.S. tank is trapped by enemy fire, and recues it at the risk of being hit by Japanese bombs.

A few hours after the end of the battle, after another heroic test, John Basilone is killed by a mine explosion, along the perimeter of the airfield he was going through. After his fall, he will be decorated with the Navy Cross, the second highest recognition of the Marine Corps. His body will be buried in the National Cemetery of Arlington, Virginia.