by Mark W. Stevens Director of Communications, Iwo Jima Association of America
On August 16, 2016 my wife Glorene and I, had the distinct privilege and honor of attending the ship naming ceremony for a new Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer, the USS John Basilone DDG-122, at Camp Pendleton. Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus made the announcement and stated, “John Basilone was one of those Marines who Admiral Nimitz referred to as ‘uncommon valor was a common virtue,’”
The naming ceremony was attended by three of John Basilone’s relatives. John Sio, Constance Basilone Imbese, and Anthony Imbese. In addition, we were delighted to see that Kathy Painton, the Fifth Marine Division Association Vice President, was in attendance as well. Kathy just happened to be visiting California from her home in Hawaii, and was able to make the time to attend the event.
The USS Basilone is scheduled to be commissioned in 2022. The destroyer will be built at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard. General Dynamics was awarded $610.4 million for the ship construction.
While having a ship named after you is a great honor, for Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone, the hero of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, this will be the second ship named for him, both US Destroyer’s.
The first destroyer DD-824, was laid down on July 7, 1945, launched on December 21, 1945. Sgt Lena Mae Basilone, USMCWR, GySgt John Basilone's widow was the sponsor. (After the war ended, the ship laid inactive for more than two years. The ship was then converted to an escort destroyer (DDE) and re-designated the DDE-824. The USS Basilone was finally commissioned on 26 July 1949). The destroyer was decommissioned on November 1, 1977 after 28 years of service to the US Navy. The USS Basilone earned three battle stars for her service in the Vietnam War.
As far as I can tell, John Basilone is the only person to have had more than one ship named for them.
John Basilone enlisted in the Marine Corps in July 1940 and trained at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. John’s first assignment was at Marine Corps Base Quantico and New River. He was next sent to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and then to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands as a member of D Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division.
It was at Guadalcanal that John Basilone received the United States military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.
The following narrative can be found on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Basilone)
“During the Battle for Henderson Field, his unit came under attack by a regiment of approximately 3,000 soldiers from the Japanese Sendai Division. On October 24, 1942, Japanese forces began a frontal attack using machine guns, grenades, and mortars against the American heavy machine guns. Basilone commanded two sections of machine guns that fought for the next two days until only Basilone and two other Marines were left standing. Basilone moved an extra gun into position and maintained continual fire against the incoming Japanese forces. He then repaired and manned another machine gun, holding the defensive line until replacements arrived. As the battle went on, ammunition became critically low. Despite their supply lines having been cut off by enemies in the rear, Basilone fought through hostile ground to resupply his heavy machine gunners with urgently needed ammunition. When the last of it ran out shortly before dawn on the second day, Basilone held off the Japanese soldiers attacking his position using his pistol. By the end of the engagement, Japanese forces opposite their section of the line were virtually annihilated. For his actions during the battle, he received the United States military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.
In 1943, after receiving the Medal of Honor, he returned to the United States and participated in war bond tours. His arrival was highly publicized and his hometown held a parade in his honor when he returned. The homecoming parade occurred on Sunday, September 19 and drew a huge crowd with thousands of people, including politicians, celebrities and the national press. The parade made national news in Life magazine and Fox Movietone News. (A memorial parade for Basilone along Somerset Street in his hometown of Raritan has been held since 1981) After the parade, he toured the country raising money for the war effort and achieved celebrity status. Although he appreciated the admiration, he felt out of place and requested to return to the operating forces fighting the war. The Marine Corps denied his request and told him he was needed more on the home front. He was offered a commission, which he turned down, and was later offered an assignment as an instructor, but refused this as well. He requested again to return to the war and this time the request was approved. He left for Camp Pendleton, California, for training on December 27.
While stationed at Camp Pendleton, he met his future wife, Lena Mae Riggi, who was a Sergeant in the Marine Corps Women's Reserve. They were married at St. Mary's Star of the Sea Church in Oceanside, on July 10, 1944, with a reception at the Carlsbad Hotel. They honeymooned at an onion farm near Portland. (Lena was born in Portland, Oregon)
After his request to return to the fleet was approved, he was assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division during the invasion of Iwo Jima. On February 19, 1945, he was serving as a machine gun section leader in action against Japanese forces on Red Beach II. During the battle, the Japanese concentrated their fire at the incoming Marines from heavily fortified blockhouses staged throughout the island. With his unit pinned down, Basilone made his way around the side of the Japanese positions until he was directly on top of the blockhouse. He then attacked with grenades and demolitions, single-handedly destroying the entire strong point and its defending garrison. He then fought his way toward Airfield Number 1 and aided a Marine tank that was trapped in an enemy mine field under intense mortar and artillery barrages. He guided the heavy vehicle over the hazardous terrain to safety, despite heavy weapons fire from the Japanese. As he moved along the edge of the airfield, he was killed by Japanese mortar shrapnel. His actions helped Marines penetrate the Japanese defense and get off the landing beach during the critical early stages of the invasion. He was posthumously awarded the Marine Corps' second-highest decoration for valor, the Navy Cross, for extraordinary heroism during the battle of Iwo Jima.
Based on his research for the book and mini-series The Pacific, author Hugh Ambrose suggested that Basilone was not killed by a mortar, but by small arms fire that hit him in the right groin, the neck and nearly took off his left arm.”
John Basilone was originally interred on a Marine Corp Cemetery on Iwo Jima, but when it was decided to re-inter the soldiers to various other National cemeteries, the family decided they wanted his remains returned to the U.S.. Per the Trenton Evening Times, November 14, 1947, “The Elder Basilone (father Salvatore) said that he, his wife and John’s widow, Mrs. Lena Rigi Basilone, had been content to let “Johnny” rest in the Marine Corps Cemetery on Iwo. However, when the War Department advised next of kin that the cemetery was to be vacated and removed to another island in the Pacific, he said he and his wife felt their son should be returned to the United States.”
He was interred in Arlington National Cemetery in Section 12, Grave 384. His wife Lena died June 11, 1999, at the age of 86, and was buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California. Lena's obituary notes that she never remarried, and was buried still wearing her wedding ring. (Although the Veterans Administration offered to bury Lena in Arlington Cemetery near her husband, she refused the offer saying she "didn't want to cause trouble for anyone")
The photos above, were provided by Clarence Rey, via John Butler. Clarence was a rifle Plt Sgt in C-1-27 and a good buddy of Basilone's