Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day, 2015

At a police training class a while back, we were asked to write down the name of someone we thought of as a hero. I wrote down the name John Basilone. Nobody else in the room knew who he was. But for Marines, that name is very familiar. Here's why we know of him:

In October, 1942, on the island of Guadalcanal, Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone was in charge of two machine gun sections. At Lunga Ridge, about 1000 yards from what would become Henderson Airfield, Basilone's machine gunners were set up in a defensive position. For two days, in pouring rain, a Japanese regiment of about 3,000 men staged repeated banzai charges toward Basilone's position. Basilone continually moved between his two machine gun sections, directing fire and keeping his men's wits about them. At one point, only Basilone and two other Marines remained in action. Basilone took over one machine gun and kept it operating, then moved a third gun into position and moved between the two to suppress the charging enemy. He repaired malfunctioning guns by feel in the pitch dark. When ammunition ran low, he twice ran to ammo stashes and returned. Finally, Basilone fended off attackers with just a .45-caliber pistol and a machete. In the end, the Japanese regiment was wiped out. Basilone was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Guadalcanal.

After Guadalcanal, Basilone returned to the United States and participated in a War Bond tour. At his request, however, he returned to combat duty in the Pacific.

Basilone was part of the assault wave on Iwo Jima in February, 1945. He led his pinned-down men in getting off the beach and moving inland. A Marine coming in behind Basilone's wave later said, "The only marines I saw standing upright and walking were the Colonel (Louis Plain) and the Gunny (Basilone)." Basilone further led his men in destroying concrete-fortified emplacements from which the Japanese were firing on the assault troops. Later, while trying to direct a tank that was under heavy artillery fire out of a mine field, Basilone was killed by mortar shrapnel. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on Iwo Jima.

NOTE: There's a lot of hype and legend out there about Basilone. My information is based solely on medal citations and published accounts by people who were actually there. Any inaccuracies are my own.

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