R 031207 OCT 19
MSGID/GENADMIN/CMC WASHINGTON DC MRA MP//
SUBJ/2019 ITALIAN AMERICAN HERITAGE AND CULTURE MONTH//
REF/A/PUBLIC LAW 96-443/13OCT1980/ITALIAN AMERICAN HERITAGE WEEK//
REF/B/PUBLIC LAW 101-128/25OCT1989/ITALIAN AMERICAN HERITAGE AND CULTURE MONTH//
POC/T. M. VELAZQUEZ/CIV/UNIT: MRA (MPE)/TEL: COM (703)784-9371/TEL: DSN (278)/EMAIL: THERESA.VELAZQUEZ@USMC.MIL//
GENTEXT/REMARKS/1. Since proclaimed by Public Law 101-128 in 1989, October is observed as “Italian American Heritage and Culture Month.” During Italian American Heritage and Culture Month, we take the opportunity to honor all Americans of Italian descent and to acknowledge their ongoing contributions to the success and development of our Nation. The 2019 observance theme for the Marine Corps is: “Fortitude and Fidelity in Service.”
2. Among our Nation’s Congressional Medal of Honor (MOH) recipients who are Marines, there are few who are more recognizable than GySgt John F. Basilone (1916-1945). John Basilone was born in New Jersey the son of Salvatore Basilone, an Italian immigrant from Benevento, Italy. His mother’s family also emigrated from Benevento. After completing his education, John joined the Army in 1934, enlisting for three years. He earned the moniker “Manila John” as an amateur light-heavyweight boxer, while he was a soldier stationed in the Philippines.
3. In pursuit of returning to the Philippines, Sgt Basilone enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1940 becoming a machine gunner. He joined “D” Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division and deployed to the Lunga Area of Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. Sgt Basilone soon led two sections of heavy machineguns against a relentless enemy frontal assault. Reduced to two Marines and one machinegun, Sgt Basilone moved the machinegun into a better positon to meet the attack. He then repaired the other gun and personally operated it until replacements could arrive. Additionally, when supply lines were severed, Sgt Basilone fought through enemy fire to replenish critically depleted ammunition so his Marines could continue the fight against an enemy regiment. For his heroic actions on the night of October 24-25, 1942 during what became known as the Battle for Henderson Field in the Guadalcanal Campaign, Sgt Basilone was awarded the MOH. After receiving the MOH, he was ordered stateside to encourage support for the war effort. Wanting to rejoin “his boys” on the frontlines, he declined offers for an officer’s commission and instructor duty orders.
4. Sgt Lena Mae (Riggi) Basilone (1913-1999) was born to Italian immigrants in Portland, Oregon. She first left her family’s onion farm to attend business school and later joined the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve (USMCWR) as a field cook. While stationed at Camp Pendleton in 1944, Lena Mae Riggi met and married John Basilone. After a month of marriage, GySgt John Basilone received orders to fight in the Pacific theater once again where he fell at Iwo Jima. During her lifetime, the long widowed Lena Mae dedicated herself to advocating for veterans’ memorial and welfare causes. Lena Mae was known for always wearing her wedding ring from John, but with grace and humility, she declined the offer to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery alongside her husband.
5. GySgt Basilone was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his fearless actions during day one of the Battle for Iwo Jima. Returning to “his boys” at last after a tour of promoting war bonds and marrying Lena Mae, GySgt Basilone led a machinegun section for “C” Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division. On February 19, 1945 on Iwo Jima against heavy enemy resistance, he first destroyed a fortified blockhouse with its defending garrison by using grenades and demolitions. Subsequently, GySgt Basilone fought toward Airfield Number 1 where he came to the assistance of a friendly tank which was trapped within an enemy minefield and receiving barrages of mortar and artillery fire. With unrelenting endurance, GySgt Basilone maneuvered at the forefront of the assault defying hostile fire upon the edge of the airfield when he was killed instantly by a bursting mortar shell. In service of his country, GySgt Basilone gallantly gave his life.
6. GySgt Basilone lends his name to two naval ships. Commissioned in 1949, the first USS Basilone (DD/DDE-824) was a Gearing-class destroyer sponsored by his wife, Sgt Lena Mae Basilone, USMCWR. The USS Basilone earned three battle stars during the Vietnam War, and it was decommissioned in 1977. In 2016, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer named in honor of GySgt Basilone is planned for construction. The USS John Basilone (DDG 122) is expected to enter the Navy fleet in 2022.
7. To learn more about the Marine Corps’ Italian American heritage, Medal of Honor recipients, and U.S. military history, visit the Library of the Marine Corps (grc-usmcu.libguides.com/library-of-the-marine-corps) or select a book from the Commandant’s Professional Reading list (grc-usmcu.libguides.com/usmc-reading-list). For a firsthand account about the fortitude of GySgt Basilone, read, “Red Blood, Black Sand: Fighting Alongside John Basilone from Boot Camp to Iwo Jima,” (2012) by Charles W. Tatum.
8. During this observance month, commanders are encouraged to recognize and celebrate the invaluable service and selfless contributions Italian Americans - military, veteran, and civilian - give to our country and Corps. Commanders are further encouraged to conduct programs and promote participation in observance events within their commands and across their local communities.
9. Release authorized by BGen D. L. Shipley, Division Director, Manpower Plans and Policy.//