Your lovable Grey Beard Biker loves military history. You know this, because you are in the know. To the Grey Beard it doesn’t matter if a soldier was given any specific award, they are still a hero because they signed their name in blood on a contract with the United States government – a contract which is due-and-payable, if necessary, with their life. But those brave souls who have been awarded the Medal of Honor have a very special place in my heart. You see, less than 3,500 soldiers have been given this award since its inception during the Civil War. Until World War II, the vast majority of MoH recipients received their award while still alive. Since WW II, greater than 60% received the medal posthumously.
The basis for receiving our country’s highest military award is stringent, according to the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation:
Awarded by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, to a member of the armed forces who “distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:”
- while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
- while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
- while serving with friendly forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
Grey Beard Biker’s Medal of Honor Profile:
Gunnery Sergeant, John Basilone, United States Marine Corps
Hometown: Buffalo, New York
Date of Birth: November 4, 1916
Died: February 19, 1945, Iwo Jima, Japan
Age at Death: 28
Final Resting Place: Arlington National Cemetery
John Basilone was the sixth of ten children born to Salvator and Colle Basilone (nee Sannita). Although he was born in Buffalo, Basilone moved to Raritan, New Jersey as a toddler. Before joining the armed forces, Basilone worked as a golf caddy at a local country club.
In 1934 Basilone entered the United States Army, completing his enlistment in the Philippines after a three year stint. He may have been best known at that time as a champion caliber boxer. Leaving the military, he returned to the U.S. and a short career as a truck driver in Maryland.
In 1940, Basilone enlisted in the Marine Corps at Baltimore, Maryland. After training at Marine Corps Base Quantico, he would be assigned to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba until the United States declared war on Japan, after the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Assigned to Dog “D” Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, Sergeant Basilone’s first duty assignment would be to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, South Pacific. It would be here that young Basilone would display undaunted courage, through his actions, at the Battle of Henderson Field, earning him the Medal of Honor.
Official Medal of Honor 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 machineguns, 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 guncrews, was put out of action, leaving only two 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 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.
1943 would mark a homecoming for Basilone. He would be brought home to tour the United States on a War Bonds Tour – essentially urging civilians to purchase war bonds to fund the ongoing hostilities around the world. Feeling uncomfortable in the limelight, he would request to return to action, twice, before being approved to return to the Pacific Theater.
On 19 February 1945, assigned to “C” Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division, Basilone would storm the beaches of Iwo Jima, Japan, fighting his way inland to Airfield Number 1. Assisting a Marine tank, which was stuck in an enemy minefield, Basilone was killed by enemy mortar shrapnel. His gallant actions greatly assisted the Marines in expanding their beachhead at Iwo Jimo on that D-Day. His actions at Iwo Jimo would lead him to receive the Navy Cross, the Marine Corps’ second highest decoration for valor, posthumously.
Gunnery Sergeant, John Basilone, thank you for your courage, intrepidity and valor in the Pacific Theater during World War II. You remain, to this day, an inspiration to so many.
Note: John Basilone was portrayed in the HBO’s miniseries, The Pacific, by Jon Seda. While not as inspiring as Band of Brothers, this program is still highly recommend by The Grey Beard Biker.