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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  April, 2010

Did You Know?
John Basilone was a true American war hero. His heroic actions in October of 1942 are now being retold as part of the 10 segment HBO miniseries – The Pacific.

Executive producers, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, have helped craft such a vivid portrait of war and its warriors that it offers compelling proof that Basilone (whose story is at the very heart of it) deserves every honor accorded him.

We see him flung into battle at Guadalcanal, and shoot so many advancing Japanese soldiers the resultant pile of their bodies obscured his line-of-vision.

We’re shown the spot where his commanding officer had taken such a measure of his selfless actions that he announced to Basilone, “I’m going to put you in for a medal.”

That medal would be unlike any an enlisted member of the United States Marines had yet received during WWII - The Congressional Medal of Honor.

NOTE: Last week, I inadvertently said Basilone was the first ever enlisted U.S. Marine to earn the Congressional Medal. He was actually the first to earn it during WWII.

The military heroes of WWII were often relieved of their fighting duties and sent back to the United States to help sell war bonds. They served as living examples of why this country was at war, and the importance of winning it.

The synopsis for Part V of The Pacific (shown at 9PM this last night and available ON DEMAND) says that “Basilone’s celebrity grows as he travels across the country on the war bonds tour.”

“LIFE GOES TO A HEROES HOMECOMING” was the headline of the four page spread in October, 1943 edition of Life Magazine.

30 thousand people showed up to greet Basilone in his hometown of Raritan, N.J. when he went home to visit his parents, Salvatore and Dora Basilone, who had once been tailors in Dunbar and in Connellsville.

Basilone’s trip across the country would include his visit to Pittsburgh, where he was asked if he was aware of how many Japanese soldiers he’d killed at Guadalcanal, and his reply (according to the Connellsville Daily Courier) was that he was too busy shooting to count.

There were also newspaper accounts of Basilone’s stay in Connellsville with his uncle, Alfonso Basilone, and his cousin (Alfonso’s son) Angelo.

Alfonso and Angelo had become pillars of their community by the time Basilone came calling.

The elder Basilone had owned a number of businesses, including a private bank, while his son became a respected druggist and the national trustee of the Columbus Italian Fraternal Society.

When their heroic relative, John Basilone, decided to take a “rest” from selling bonds, he came to Fayette County - and with some fanfare.

“MARINE WHO HOLDS HIGH CONGRESSIONAL HONOR COMES HERE FOR VISIT,” was the front page headline in the Connellsville Daily Courier on October 30th, 1943.

Basilone also visited Uniontown and the home of his uncle (through marriage) Dr. Cataldo Corrado.

While in Uniontown, he stopped at the offices of the Morning Herald and he painstakingly recalled the nights for which he had earned his Congressional Medal. "I had just laid down the field phone warning us of the approaching Japs, before they swarmed in knocking out two guns on the right flank and killing all but two gunners," he said.

He then explained the events that are currently being meticulously matched in the current HBO miniseries.

Yet, the miniseries makes frequent references to the main characters’ reluctance to stay too far from the field of battle.

The need for Basilone’s “rest” in Fayette County, for instance, was not because of war weariness, but of the demands placed on him by his unsolicited celebrity.

He wanted to return to battle. One month after his visit to Fayette County, Basilone was headed for Camp Pendleton, California. He was offered a commission, but refused. He requested to go back into battle, and the military refused.

He met his future wife while he was stationed there, and they were married in July of 1944.

In February of 1945, his superiors, having refused his numerous requests to return to combat, finally relented and he joined his fellow Marines for the invasion of Iwo Jima.

It was there that, according to the citation for his posthumously awarded Navy Cross, “he pushed forward with dauntless courage and iron determination until, moving upon the edge of the airfield, he fell, instantly killed by a bursting mortar shell.”

In May of 1945, the Daily Courier ran a full page ad honoring Basilone and it reiterated the need to buy war bonds.
In October of that year, just two months after the Japanese surrendered, Basilone’s wife Lena visited his aunt and uncle in Connellsville.

She confirmed to the Daily Courier that her late husband had grown restless to get back to the war, even though they had only spent one month together as man and wife. "Then Johnny began to think he should go back. This was the hard
part," she said.

Since his tragic death, Basilone’s memory has been kept alive through a number of events named in his honor; in his hometown they’ve named his high school football field and a bridge after him; there is a large statue which depicts him in battle; there is a postage stamp which bears his image; they named the U.S. Naval destroyer – U.S.S. Basilone – after him; during the late 1960’s in Connellsville, the Sgt. John Basilone Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans was formed.

Yet, what is most remarkable is how HBO and a couple of Hollywood luminaries are so richly capturing his life and eventual demise for contemporary television audiences.
And more importantly, for me, there are his ties to Fayette County.

The Pacific can be seen on Sunday nights at 9PM on HBO.