The United States of America is a free nation that prides itself on their citizens’ individual liberties, as documented in The Constitution. This sovereignty was not handed to the Founding Fathers; they had to fight for their Independence from Great Britain back in the late 1700s and again in the early 1800s.
Today the United States boasts the most powerful military in the entire world due to her advanced technology, vigorous training requirements and large population to select soldiers from. The freedom that Americans felt back during the birth of their nation some two and a half centuries ago is still felt today, due in large part to the honorable men and women that serve in the United States Military.
One of the many honorable branches, the Marine Corps, boasts some of the most legendary servicemen and women to ever put on the American uniform and defend our freedom, as well as the freedom of other nations over the course of history. Here are two of their names:
Medal of Honor Recipient John Basilone was born in Buffalo, NY on November 4, 1916. He was one of 10 children and attended St. Bernard Parochial School in Raritan, NJ before enlisting in the United States Army at the age of 18. Basilone served overseas for three years before returning home and working as a trucker driver in Reisterstown, MD.
While enlisted in the Army, he was given the nickname “Manilla John '' due to his tour in the Philippines by his fellow combatants. After Basilone had worked an everyday job back in America for a few years, he enlisted in the Marines in July 1940 in Baltimore, MD. He trained in Quantico, VA, Parris Island, SC, and New River, NC before serving in Guantanamo Bay.
Basilone is highly recognized for his service in the Pacific War during the latter part of his career. He served in the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division and eventually earned the title of Gunnery Sergeant.
During the firefighting on the Solomon Islands from October 24-25, Basilone committed an act of valor when one of the gun crews in his section was put out of action as Japanese soldiers were attempting to knock them out with endless mortar fire and grenades.
While holding defensive positions and possessing only two men capable of operating the machine guns, Basilone moved an extra weapon into his section that he personally repaired and held off the checkpoint as he manned it by himself. As recounted by a fellow Pfc Nash W. Phillips, Basilone killed 38 Japanese soldiers alone over the course of three days and nights using the heavy artillery and his pistol. He was fully operational for this time period without any rest, food or water and traveled through hostile lines to obtain more ammo for his section when they began to run out.
His efforts were extremely heroic and played a major part in defeating the Japanese regiment fighting against them. Basilone was awarded the Medal of Honor by Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift on May 21, 1943 in Balcombe, Australia. The award was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Basilone was sent back to America to help with the war bond process while also being offered commission and the chance to remain there until the end of the war. He declined this proposal with the mindset of not craving media attention and to feed his urge to return to battle with his brothers.
On February 19, 1945, John Basilone stormed Red Beach at Iwo Jima attached to the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He led gunners up the beach after being pinned down by gunfire. He helped protect his more inexperienced Marines by keeping them from lying on the ground for cover. He instructed them that lying low made them sitting targets.
After destroying a blockhouse, Basilone and four other Marines in his unit were killed instantly by an enemy artillery shell explosion.
He died at 28 years old and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Navy Cross for his actions. John Basilone’s story is told on the small screen in the HBO miniseries The Pacific, detailing his career from Guadalcanal to Iwo Jima.
Let’s take a moment to discuss Chesty Puller: the most decorated Marine in United States history. Chesty Puller is the only Marine to ever win the Navy Cross five times. During his 37 year career, Chesty was overseas for all but a decade, partaking in some of the most famous wars of all time.
His legend is so enduring that even today, those at Marine boot camps will often say “Good night, Chesty Puller, wherever you are!”
Lewis Burwell Puller was born on June 26, 1898 in West Point, VA into a military family. His second cousin was General George S. Patton, who served in World War II, commanding the 7th Army in the Mediterranean and his grandfather fought in the American Civil War. Puller grew up idolizing military figures of his time during his youth, as he too wanted to follow in his family’s footsteps and join the Armed Forces.
He enrolled in the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in 1917, but he left after one year with the hope of being sent overseas to fight in the Great War. However, Puller was assigned to train recruits in South Carolina despite his wishes. He graduated as 2nd Lieutenant from Officer Training School in 1919 but was placed on the inactive list due to postwar troop reductions in the aftermath of World War I.
Caribbean and Central America
Puller later reenlisted as a corporal, where he went on to train Haitian enlisted troops and Marines on an island in the Caribbean. While in Haiti, he saw plenty of action from Caco rebels before returning back to the United States after five years. In 1924, Chesty re-obtained his rank as 2nd Lieutenant before being shipped off to the Marine Barracks in Pearl Harbor, HI.
Puller served two separate tours in Nicaragua, earning the first two of his five Navy Crosses for fighting rebels under the command of Augusto Sandino, and later on during his daring efforts in a 10-day march. Following Nicaragua, Puller sailed the Pacific to join forces with the Marines in Peiping, China, where he commanded the famous “Horse Marines.” He spent time as a commanding officer aboard a sea vessel stationed in the Pacific before meeting up with the 4th Marines in Shanghai in 1940.
World War II
General Puller was sailing back across the ocean to the United States’s west coast some four months before the Japanese forces notoriously bombed Pearl Harbor on December 9, 1941. He went on to serve in the Pacific War while commanding the 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division in Guadalcanal, where he earned his third Navy Cross.
On the night of October 24-25, 1942, Puller and his men were the last legs of defense between the enemy and Henderson airfield. He defended it for a grueling three hours, only taking 70 casualties versus the 1,400 dead Japanese soldiers and 17 trucks of equipment they were able to obtain during the battle.
Puller later earned his fourth Navy Cross in Cape Gloucester, England, in 1944. He valiantly took over two battalions with wounded commanders and led them to take over an enemy position through mortar and machine-gun fire.
Finally, Chesty Puller was given his fifth Navy Cross and the Distinguished Service Cross (Navy Cross equivalent for the Army) as the commander of the 1st Marines, 1st Marines Division. He was recognized for his valiance during The Battle of Chosin Reservoir during a six-day period in December 1950.
He fought in sub-zero temperatures and withstood countless enemy attacks towards their defense sector from heavy machine, artillery and mortar fire while maintaining the perimeter and staying calm throughout. Puller did an excellent job of halting the attempted assaults to his unit and protecting valuable equipment that would’ve been taken by their enemies had they not prevailed. Once again, he was there for his fellow soldiers when they needed him most.
The legacy of John Basilone and Chesty Puller should continue to spread throughout the American History books for the rest of time. These two men honorably defended the freedom of the United States while also fighting for the liberty of other nations as well.
They received many awards, respectively, but it was their grit and determination to remain with their fellow soldiers that really embody their fame. Basilone refused to stay in America while the Pacific War was still being fought, and Puller was eventually forced to retire due to an illness that plagued him later in his life after 37 years of service. Both true patriots, these men will never be forgotten for what they did for the United States.
John “Manilla John” Basilone | Congressional Medal of Honor Society
Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, USMC (Deceased) | Marine Corps University
Valor Friday: the legend of John Basilone | Marine Corps Times
Puller, Lewis Burwell “Chesty” (1898-1971) | Encyclopedia Virginia
Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell 'Chesty' Puller | Military Medals