Throughout the course of the website's lifespan, I've hit most of the biggest and most famous badasses in United States Marine Corps history. I've talked about Daly, Hathcock, Puller, and many others both digitally and in print, though to date there has been one glaring omission to this long, hallowed list of American war heroes – Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone. A one-man nuclear warhead of destruction, Basilone is the only man to receive both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross for actions in combat during World War II, and was the first enlisted Marine in WWII to receive the Medal of Honor and live to talk about it. He nowadays is correctly remembered by Marines across the U.S. as one of the toughest mofos to ever beat a dude to death with a heavy machine gun.
The sixth of ten kids born to an off-the-boat Italian family in Buffalo, New York, Basilone knew from his youth that he was interested in a life of busting peoples' chest cavities apart with his fists and/or some kind of large-gauge automatic weapon ammunition. He initially joined the U.S. Army in 1934, where combined both of these hobbies by spending most of time by punching people ruthlessly in the head for fun as an Army boxing champions. Eventually Basilone got bored of beating the crap out of his fellow Americans and, after a brief return to the States, re-enlisted in the Marine Corps so that he could head back to the Pacific and prove to everyone how gigantic and inflexible his balls are.
Not long after joining the Corps, the Empire of Japan spontaneously decided it would be sweet to sneak up and blow the crap out of a bunch of U.S. battleships when nobody was looking, and the American government responded to this affront to its honor by unleashing Gunnery Sergeant Basilone on the Japanese-controlled island of Guadalcanal in1942. Just six months after Pearl Harbor, Basilone was one of the first guys to hit the beach. Fighting through the pouring rain and untold amounts of suck, the Marines clawed every inch of land they could wrench from the hands of the Japanese, finally capturing the critical airbase at Henderson Field – a vital strategic location that allowed the Americans to bring up supplies, men, gear, and machines to help them on their march across this lush tropical hellhole of bullets and explosions.
As the battle started to turn against the Empire of Japan and control of Guadalcanal slowly began to slip through his katana-gripping fingers, the commander of the Imperial forces decided to put together one last-ditch effort to re-take the airfield – a delicate mix of subtlety, sublime tactics and an intricate battle plan that basically consisted of "let's take 3,000 motherfuckers with grenades and bayonets and shove them right up everyone's assholes". A sound plan of attack, to be sure, especially considering that these three thousand dudes were all being hurled into a narrow pass defended by one fifteen-man machine gun team attached to the 7th Marine Regiment, but unfortunately for the Japanese, they didn't bank on the fact that Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone was a human force field of bullets had no intention of sitting back and letting himself get steamrolled by a force two hundred times larger than his own detachment.
This is the sort of statue you get made of you when you're a total badass.
Knowing that the attack was coming, Basilone fortified the pass Leonidas-style, only instead of relying on spears and shields he set up barbed wire fences and full-auto tripod-mounted .30-caliber machine guns. He didn't have to wait long after digging in. In the middle of the night of October 24, 1942, the full-on frontal attack of balls-out Japanese infantrymen came blitzing through the ankle-deep mud and driving rain. As a fearsome horde of screaming, bayonet-waving Japanese soldiers rushed towards Henderson Field looking to bury the U.S. base in a pile of American corpses, mortars, artillery, and hand grenades poured into the heavily-outnumbered American positions. Basilone knew some serious shit was about to go down.
The Marines fought bravely against the onslaught, but the Japanese human wave attacks never stopped, never relented, and for the next 72 hours, day and night, there wasn't a minute of their lives that wasn't haunted by a screaming Japanese dude stuffing a blade in their mugs or zinging bullets into the American sandbags. Basilone, however, wasn't going to fucking budge. For three three days and nights, without food or sleep in a marathon of carnage that can only be referred to as "Jack Bauerian", Basilone lugged a giant-ass 100-pound Browning heavy machine gun from position to position, constantly re-adjusting his fields of fire and constantly making sure that everything in front of his position was coated in a thick hail of tracer fire and crunchy lead death. When one of his squad's three operational machine guns jammed up from caked-on mud, overheating, or having the trigger lever worn out from extended bouts of cap-busting, Basilone worked his nuts off to clear the weapon and get it operational as soon as possible. When taking the time to pop open the firing mechanism wasn't practical because of all the pissed-off soldiers trying to put rifle rounds into his brain from point-blank range, Basilone dropped the gun, pulled the .45 from his waistband, and opened fire on the attackers with his pistol, sometimes from distances of less than ten feet. At one point he was down to just two survivors in his squad – one of which was now missing a hand – yet he still continued to fight relentlessly against all odds. Not even something as daunting as, you know, not having ammo and being almost completely overrun by enemies could stop this crazy one-man abattoir from IDKFA-ing his way through the enemy at every possible turn – at one point he fought his way through enemy with only his Colt M1911, got back to the airbase, and fought his way back to his squad with enough ammo to keep his guns fully-operational. By the time the sun rose on the fourth day, Gunnery Sergeant Basilone's machine gun crew had just three men standing. They had burned through 125 belts of ammunition. The entire Japanese regiment was annihilated.
After Basilone picked his way through the mountains of bodies, he received the Medal of Honor for his balls-out actions, and returned to the states to a ticker-tape parade. Between this guy and Mitchell Paige, the Japanese didn't stand a chance at Guadalcanal – these two Marines nearly single-handedly held the line against impossible odds, crushing everything in sight with their nutsacks and machine guns and maintaining the island as a forward base deep in the heart of the Japanese Empire.
Basilone, Page, and some other dudes.
Once Basilone's story got out into the papers and everybody had a solid appreciation for just how much ass this guy could kick, Basilone was understandably looked at a larger-than-life hero among the American public. He went on a national tour to raise war bonds and pump up the populace along the homefront, and the Corps offered him an officers' commission and an opportunity to train troops at bases stateside, but Basilone wasn't a politician or a figurehead – he was a warrior. He refused any MoS that didn't involve firing heavy weapons at enemy combatants, telling his commanders that he wasn't going to turn his back on the Marines that needed him.
So John Basilone went back into the shit. His next assignment: the amphibious landing on the beaches of Iwo Jima, which isn't exactly a picnic or anything, but this guy wouldn't have had it any other way. Back in his familiar role as a machine gun team leader, Basilone stepped right back into the business of slaughtering Imperial soldiers and pumping up Marines with his awesome ability to become totally hardcore at will. As soon as the landing craft hit the beach, the Marines came under intense fire from heavily-fortified Japanese blockhouses on the ridges ahead. Basilone, who was apparently was also completely immune to fear in any capacity, ran up and down the beach getting his men up and urging them to get to cover. Once his troops were safely not being torn to fuck by Japanese machine guns, Basilone grabbed a satchel of explosives, ran up to the nearest blockhouse, and blew it into the prehistoric age with a series of grenades and demo charges. The pinned-down Marines received a brief respite, picked themselves up, and continued pressing the attack.
But, amazingly, Basilone still hadn't reached his lifetime asskicking quota. He pressed forward towards the Iwo Jima airfield, but as he reached a mine-infested field of mud and nasty shit, he saw a couple of USMC tanks stuck in the ground, unable to move forward. Basilone knew that these tanks would be pretty useful against machine gun nests (being that, you know, they are bulletproof), so, despite the zipping machine gun bullets, exploding artillery shells, and motherfuckers shooting anti-tank rockets at the helpless vehicles, Basilone ran the fuck out into the open field and helped push the tanks free. The combined force of tanks and infantry overran the airfield's defenders, capturing Iwo Jima's most critical location for the Americans.
Unfortunately, Basilone wouldn't be around to drink some celebratory drinks with his men. He was killed by mortar shrapnel not long before the end of the battle. He posthumously received the Navy Cross, the second highest bravery award available to Marines, thus becoming the only Marine from the war to earn both the Navy Cross and the Medal of Honor. He is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery, one of the true heroes of the American military.
NY Daily News