John Basilone – Hero of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima

On the evening of October 24, 1942, Sergeant John Basilone prepared the Marines of his two machine gun sections for a Japanese attack.

The night before, through pouring rain and heavy mud, the Japanese 2nd (Sendai) Division had attacked the Marines on Lunga Ridge, desperately trying to re-take Henderson Field, the primitive airstrip so vital to the Guadalcanal campaign.

john basilone

John Basilone

A little after midnight on October 25, Basilone and his men heard banzai screams from hundreds of Japanese soldiers piercing the darkness as deadly mortar fire began to rain down on them.

Sergeant Basilone calmly steadied his men and waited for the Japanese to come into firing range.

The son of Italian immigrants, John Basilone was born on November 4, 1916. He grew up in Raritan, New Jersey and was the sixth of ten children.  After completing middle school, Basilone took a job as a caddy at a local golf club, but seeking adventure, he joined the Army in 1934.

During Basilone’s hitch with the Army, he was sent to the Philippine capital of Manila, as a member of the 31st Infantry Regiment. Basilone became a champion boxer and with his good looks was a big hit with the local ladies.

After completing his tour with the Army, John Basilone took a job as a truck driver in Maryland. But with fond memories of the Philippines, he yearned to return to Manila.

In July 1940, John Basilone enlisted in the US Marine Corps, believing the Marines to be a faster ticket to the Philippines. Basilone spoke so often about Manila, that he earned the nick-name “Manila John” from his fellow Marines.

On August 7, 1942, with America fully embroiled in WWII, John Basilone, now a member of D Company, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. For months, Basilone and his fellow Marines battled Japanese forces through the swamps and jungles of the disease infested island.

By mid-October, the Japanese had amassed a force of 20,000 men and were planning a massive counter-attack to throw the Americans off the island.

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Marines storm ashore on Guadalcanal

After being repulsed on October 24, by American Marines and soldiers of the Army’s 164th Infantry Regiment, the Japanese re-grouped and launched an all-out frontal assault the next evening. At a critical juncture leading to Henderson Field, stood Sgt. John Basilone and his two sections of .30 caliber water cooled machine guns.

Under the cover of small arms and mortar fire, the first wave of Japanese soldiers threw themselves on the razor sharp barbed wire guarding Marine positions to form a human bridge for their comrades to step on. Explosions, tracer rounds and muzzle flashes illuminated the evening as the Japanese pressed home their attack. Basilone’s Marines held down the triggers of their machine guns turning gun barrels red hot as they cut down wave after wave of Japanese soldiers. Bodies of enemy dead piled up so high in front of their position that machine guns had to be elevated to fire over the corpses. During the fighting, John Basilone replaced over-heated gun barrels, repaired guns and repeatedly ran for ammunition which by now was in short supply.

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Marines pause for a rest during a march on Guadalcanal

As the Japanese continued their attack, they managed to overrun one of Basilone’s machine gun crews, killing two Marines and wounding three others. Acting quickly, Basilone grabbed a machine gun and ran to the break in the line. He killed eight Japanese soldiers before the gun jammed, clogged by mud and water. With more Japanese lining up for an assault, Basilone frantically cleaned and cleared his weapon in near total darkness then continued to pour hot lead on the enemy.

By dawn, the Japanese attack had been stopped cold and Henderson Field remained firmly in American hands. John Basilone was credited with single handedly killing at least 38 Japanese soldiers, many shot with his .45 pistol at near point blank range.

The Japanese 2nd Division lost an estimated 2,200-3,000 men in their attack on Henderson Field.  American losses were 80 men killed.

For his actions on October 24-25, Sergeant John Basilone was awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest award for bravery. His medal citation reads:

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to:



for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action against enemy Japanese forces, above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division in the Lunga Area, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 24 and 25 October 1942. While the enemy was hammering at the Marines’ defensive positions, Sgt. BASILONE, in charge of 2 sections of heavy machine guns, fought valiantly to check the savage and determined assault. In a fierce frontal attack with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and mortar fire, one of Sgt. BASILONE’S sections, with its gun crews, was put out of action, leaving only 2 men able to carry on. Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived. A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. BASILONE, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. His great personal valor and courageous initiative were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Franklin D. Roosevelt


After John Basilone received the Medal of Honor, the Marine Corps sent him home. He received a hero’s welcome in his hometown of Raritan, NJ and had a parade held in his honor. He gave speeches with other war heroes and Hollywood celebrities at War Bond rallies and was even offered to star in some movies.

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John Basilone during his Medal of Honor award ceremony

After a few months of enjoying his fame, Basilone was itching to get back into the fight. He didn’t want to live in luxury while he knew his fellow Marines were still fighting. He repeatedly requested to return to combat duty but was denied by the Marine Corps who felt his presence on the Homefront was more important.

However, on December 27, 1943 he reported to Camp Pendleton, CA after his request was finally approved. While at Camp Pendleton he met and married Lena Mae Riggi, a Sergeant in the US Marine Corps Women’s Reserve.

Basilone was assigned to C Company, 27th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division. On February 19, 1945, he landed with his men on the island of Iwo Jima. His unit was pinned down on the beach by heavy Japanese fire coming from a fortified blockhouse. Through intense fire, Basilone made his way around the side of the blockhouse and single-handedly destroyed it with grenades and explosives. As his unit approached Iwo Jima’s Airfield Number 1, he guided a Marine tank out of an enemy minefield while under an intense artillery and mortar barrage. While advancing to the airfield, John Basilone was killed by a mortar shell. For his actions he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the 2nd highest award for valor.

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Lena Basilone prepares to christen the USS Basilone, a Destroyer named in honor of her late husband

John Basilone was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. His wife, Lena Mae Basilone lived until June 11, 1999 dying at the age of 86. She never remarried and was buried still wearing the wedding ring given to her by her husband on their wedding day in 1944.

For More About John Basilone Check out:

The Pacific

Red Blood, Black Sand: Fighting Alongside John Basilone from Boot Camp to Iwo Jima

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One thought on “John Basilone – Hero of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima

  • John Basilone, a true American and Marine Corps hero. God bless him and his kind. As a combat Marine from Vietnam, I stand in awe of Basilone and his kind.
    –E. Michael Helms
    2nd Bn., 4th Marines, 3rdMarDiv, Vietnam `1967-68.
    Semper Fidelis.

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