john basilone

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - BY AN­THONY C. ZINNI out­look@wash­ An­thony C. Zinni is a re­tired Marine Corps gen­eral and a for­mer U.S. peace en­voy to the Mid­dle East.

The first time I vis­ited the is­land of Iwo Jima, I headed straight for the black-sand in­va­sion beaches. I wanted to col­lect sand like ev­ery Marine who vis­its that iconic bat­tle­field does, but I wanted to get my vial from the spot where John Basilone drew his last breath.

As a U.S. Marine and the child of an Ital­ian im­mi­grant, “Manila” John Basilone had al­ways been a hero of mine. He was a tough kid from a large Ital­ian fam­ily in Rar­i­tan, N. J., who joined the Army be­fore World War II. He be­came an un­de­feated box­ing cham­pion and an ex­pert ma­chine gun­ner. When the war be­gan, it found him in the Marines and in the first ma­jor Amer­i­can fight of the Pa­cific, the Bat­tle of Guadalcanal, in 1942. He earned the Medal of Honor on a piece of high ground ap­pro­pri­ately named Bloody Ridge. With only three men left from his two sec­tions of ma­chine gun­ners, he held off a con­tin­u­ous on­slaught of Ja­panese at­tacks.

He was one of our first he­roes of the war and was brought back to the States to help sell war bonds. The glitz and glory of tour­ing with movie stars did not sit well with him. He asked to re­turn to the Pa­cific and landed on D-Day on Iwo Jima. His life ended hours later, af­ter he led his men off the beach to take down a Ja­panese po­si­tion and guided a tank through a minefield. For those ac­tions, he was awarded the mil­i­tary’s sec­ond-high­est com­bat dec­o­ra­tion, the Navy Cross.

John Basilone Day is cel­e­brated in 12 states. He has a pa­rade in his honor in Rar­i­tan each year, as well as a statue there. A Navy de­stroyer, a bridge and part of an in­ter­state high­way have been named for him. In a clas­sic il­lus­tra­tion in Col­lier’s mag­a­zine from 1944, he is draped in belts of ammo and hold­ing a wa­ter-cooled .30-cal­iber ma­chine gun.

To me, that im­age and his face have al­ways been sym­bolic of the Ital­ian Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence and what we have tried to do in serv­ing our coun­try to re­pay the op­por­tu­ni­ties given to our par­ents and grand­par­ents who came here seek­ing the Amer­i­can dream.

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