John Basilone is a Marine Corps legend. During the fighting on Guadalcanal in October 1942, Basilone’s actions would result in him being awarded the Medal of Honor. He was sent home to sell War Bonds but asked to be returned to the war. He was killed in action on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. Basilone was the only enlisted Marine during WWII to be awarded the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, and the Purple Heart.

Basilone was born in his parents’ home in Buffalo, NY on November 4, 1916, the sixth of 10 children. He was just two years old the family moved to Raritan, NJ. He dropped out of high school to go to work during the Depression.  

Basilone joined the Army in July 1934 serving in the Philippines where he was a champion boxer. After his three-year hitch was up, he returned to the United States and was a truck driver in Maryland. But he itched to return to the Philippines and thought he could get there quicker by joining the Marines rather than the Army. Although he joined the Marines in 1940, unfortunately for him, he’d never get back to the Philippines. 

After his recruit training at Parris Island, Basilone trained at Quantico, VA, and New River, NC before shipping out to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After the U.S.’s entry into World War II, Basilone went to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, as a member of “D” Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division.

On October 24, 1942, during the Battle of Henderson Field, Basilone commanded two machine-gun sections that were tasked with holding a narrow pass at the Tenaru River. The heavily outnumbered Marines were attacked by a regiment of the Japanese Sendai Division with 3,000 men.

The Japanese attacked at night while hitting the Marines with concentrated mortar fire and grenades as they tried to swarm over the machine gun positions. One of the heavy water-cooled .30 caliber machineguns was knocked out of action after taking on several waves of Japanese attacks. With complete disregard for his own safety, Basilone ran 200 yards through enemy fire, carrying almost 90 pounds of equipment and ammunition to the knocked out machine gun position. Encountering Japanese soldiers that had broken through the Marine lines, Basilone killed them with his .45 pistol. 

John Basilone, portrayed by Jon Seda in the HBO series The Pacific.

During the pitched battle that ensued, Basilone continued to display his awe-inspiring valor by constantly braving fire, carrying ammunition back and forth to the gun positions, and clearing a gun jam during the nearly suicidal Japanese infantry attacks. 

“The noise was terrific, and I could see the Japs leaping as they were smacked by our bullets. Screaming, yelling, and dying all at the same time. Still, they came only to fall back, twisting and going through all sorts of motions as we dispatched them to their honorable ancestors,” Basilone recalled later.