Who Was Sgt. John Basilone? His Wife, Family, How Did He Die?

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Some become heroes on a field of grass, using their passion and talent to etch everlasting memories into the heart of millions, inking their names in the history books as legends. Others choose the battlefield, fighting for the freedom of millions and prepared to lay down their lives so that others would live a fulfilling life. Sgt. John Basilone is one of the many great men who chose the battlefield and etched their name into history as heroes. Let’s learn more about him.

Who Was Sgt. John Basilone? 

Sgt. John Basilone was born in Buffalo, New York as the sixth child of ten children. An Italian descent, his father, Salvatore Basilone reportedly moved from Colle Sannita, in Benevento, Italy to the United States way back in 1930. Unlike his father, his mother was born in Manville, New Jersey in 1889. She was equally raised in the city.

According to various records, John Basilone was brought up in Raritan, Somerset County, New Jersey. This was where his father settled in after he emigrated. In Raritan, John attended St. Bernard Parochial School. He dropped out of school as soon as he completed middle school and started working as a golf caddy before he eventually decided to join the military.

It was in July 1934 that John enlisted in the United States Army. Serving in Manila, Philippines, it is said that he completed his three-year enlistment. Apart from serving his country in the Philippines, John equally developed a passion for boxing and eventually became a champion boxer. Returning home after he was released from active duty, the boxer became a truck driver but he gained no satisfaction from his new job and soon, he started nurturing the desire of returning to Manila. To achieved this, he joined the Marines. This was in 1940. But then, joining the Marines did not fulfill his wish to return to Manila as he was sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and then to Guadalcanal.

Among other things, Sgt. John Basilone is celebrated for the bravery he displayed at Guadalcanal, in October 1942 when his unit was attacked by Japanese fighters. History recorded that the Japanese forces’ frontal attack against the Americans left only Sgt. John Basilone and two other Marines in the section he was commanding. Even though he ran out of ammunition, he used his pistol and a machete to battle against the Japanese forces attacking his unit. As he was able to stand his ground against the Japanese forces, Basilone was honored with the Medal of Honor, the highest valor award of the U.S military.

His return to the United States was celebrated and highly publicized. He became a celebrity and used his status to raise money for the warfare. However, despite his appreciation of the admiration he was getting, he wanted to be at the battlefield. From what we learned, the Marine Corps refused his several requests to be sent back into the battleground. In December 1943, John’s persistent demand was approved and sometime in July 1944, he was reenlisted in the Marine Corps. Unfortunately, he died on the 19th of February 1945 on the battlefield.

As one would expect, Sgt. John Basilone has been honored with several awards in the military and the public. His time in the military has also been the subject of various media projects.

His Wife and Family

Sgt. John Basilone met the woman (Lena Mae Riggi) he would later make his life partner while he was serving at Camp Pendleton. Then, Lena was as well serving as a sergeant with the Marine Corps Women Reserve.

As recorded, John and Lena developed a friendship which eventually led to them getting married on July 10, 1944, at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church located in Oceanside, California. Apparently, what they shared was very unique. Even though they didn’t have any child together, Lena refused to remarry after John’s death in 1945. Meanwhile, she died on June 11, 1999, at the age of 86.


How Did He Die?

His return to the battlefield did not end well the second time. Being a machine gun section leader during the battle of Iwo Jima, Basilone again fought the Japanese forces bravely. It is said that he single-handedly conquered various strongholds of the enemies and exposed himself to the raging fire of the Japanese in an attempt to get hold of a Marine tank trapped in the Japanese minefield.

As the story goes, he was able to guide the tank to safety by was unfortunately struck by Japanese mortar shrapnel. The Gunnery Sergeant died in action on the first day of the battle of Iwo Jima. Owing to the fact that his action helped the Marines to penetrate the enemy defense, he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the Marine Corps’ second-highest honor for valor.

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