John Basilone was born in 1916 in Buffalo, New York, one of 10 children of Salvatore and Dora Basilone. Reared and educated in Raritan, New Jersey, he gained local attention as a light-heavyweight boxer. He enlisted in the Army when he was 18 and served in the Philippines, where he picked up the nickname “Manila John.” He was honorably discharged in 1937, but, anticipating World War II, he enlisted in the Marines in July 1940.
On October 24-25, 1942, Sergeant Basilone was in charge of two sections of heavy machine guns defending a narrow pass to Henderson Airfield on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Although vastly outnumbered, he and his fellow Marines checked the assault by the Japanese. For that, Sgt. Basilone was awarded the Medal of Honor and sent back to the states to appear at war-bond rallies. He toured the country and met Hollywood starlets. His picture made the cover of Life magazine.
But Sergeant Basilone was unsatisfied back home and volunteered to return to combat, ending up at Iwo Jima. Under heavy artillery fire on February 19, 1945, he singlehandedly took out an enemy blockhouse. Minutes later, he and four others in his platoon died in an artillery blast. Sergeant Basilone was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross and Purple Heart, making him the only enlisted Marine in World War II to receive all three medals.
His body later was reburied at Arlington National Cemetery. A life-size bronze statue depicting him in battle dress and cradling a machine gun was erected years later in Raritan, his hometown.
John’s widow, Lena was a Marine and a hero in her own right. She gave the Basilone family a $10,000 life insurance check as well as her husband’s Medal of Honor after he died. After the war Lena spent her life helping others, volunteering at the Women’s Marine Association and the American Veteran’s Auxiliary.