But newspapers and radio told millions of another D-Day loss
[on Iwo Jima] - Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone. Already a Marine Corps
legend as the first Leatherneck to be awarded the Medal of Honor in
World War II, "Manila John" was leading his machine gun platoon through
the fury of Red Beach II when a mortar cut him down.
In 1942, on a black October night in the steaming jungles of
Guadalcanal, Basilone had single-handedly wiped out a company of
Japanese trying to overrun his position on the Tenaru River. With a
Colt .45 pistol and two machine guns - one cradled in his arms after the
other was knocked out - he stopped a screaming banzai attack and held
out until dawn, when reinforcements came up. Nearly a hundred sprawled
enemy dead were around his cut-off outpost.
Basilone was dark complexioned and handsome, had big ears like Clark
Cable, and a wide grin. His Italian parents beamed with pride on a very
special afternoon in 1943 when 30,000 well-wishers honored him at a gala
celebration on the 2,000-acre estate of tobacco heiress Doris Duke near
Raritan, New Jersey, his hometown.
"Manila John" blushed when photographers snapped his picture while
being kissed by a Hollywood starlet, smiled broadly when an oil portrait
was unveiled in the tiny brick town hall, and was shyly grateful for the
$5,000 was bond neighbors gave him. He turned down the bars of a second
lieutenant. "I'm a plain soldier," he said, "and I want to stay one."
From earliest memory, Basilone had wanted to be a professional fighting
man. He had done a hitch in the Army before joining the Marines in
1940, and had served in the Philippines - hence his nickname.
To millions, Basilone was a hero, one of the first of the war, and
could have remained stateside training troops and selling was bonds.
Instead, he said farewell to his new wife, also a Marine, and joined the
Fifth Division. Staying behind, he told buddies, would be "like being a
museum piece." And it wouldn't seem right, he said "if the Marines made
a landing on the Manila waterfront and 'Manila John' wasn't among them."
Now, with the invasion ninety minutes old, the intrepid sergeant had
one thought. "C'mon, you guys! Let's get these guns off the beach!" he
yelled at the gunners just behind, backs hunkered low and straining
under the heavy loads of weapons and ammunition amid the blistering
fire. The wasplike whir of an incoming mortar sounded its eerie
warning; then a shattering blast.
Basilone lunged forward in midstride, arms flung outward over his
head. He and four comrades died in that instant. On his outstretched
left arm was a tattoo: "Death before Dishonor!" 'Manila John" wouldn't
see Dewey Boulevard again, but he had won the Navy Cross, The Marine
Corps' second highest decoration for valor.
IWO JIMA - Legacy of Valor by Bill D. Ross