If there is a better example of “the hero within” than that of Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone USMC, I’ve never heard of it. If I ever do, I promise you I’ll write a book about that person too.
In my book below I have attempted to include every historical fact known about Sgt. Basilone and many personal stories that cannot be verified. It is my hope that I have created a more accurate portrait of him in the process than has existed before. I have attempted to recreate his story in his own voice based on hundreds of hours of interviews with people who knew John well and spoke with him frequently. I also grew up near John Basilone’s hometown of Raritan, New Jersey. The speech of that area is second nature to me.
Table of Contents
Real Life Heroes
John Basilone was a man of extraordinary courage. He was in many ways a simple and ordinary young man, but he had at least one unusual ability, he could see into his own future.
This para-normal ability might seem speculative in the story of a hero whose actions in battle are already well known and documented, but I believe that it is this “gift” that sets his extraordinary courage apart, beyond even most human understanding. These premonitions are documented in his sister Phyllis’ book “The Basilone Story”. This book is the only authoritative account of John as a child and young man.
I personally confirmed the fact of John’s premonitions with Phyllis and with John’s older brother and closest confidant, Carlo, who heard John correctly foretell his own future on three different occasions. The last of John’s three premonitions foretold his own death. By this time, he had received the Medal of Honor and was strongly encouraged by his military superiors to stay out of the fight, to stay home and promote the sale of war bonds.
In spite of his superiors and his fatal vision, John wanted to protect the young men who had volunteered to face a desperate and fanatical Japanese enemy – his beloved Marines. And so he returned one final time to the battlefield explaining simply, “I’m staying with my boys. They need me.” In the writing of this book, John Basilone has become a personal hero of mine and one of our real life heroes. I hope that I have done him justice in this account.
Here’s a sample.
Examples of Heroes
D-Day, Iwo Jima
We heard the diesels fire up. Metal groaned as the bow of our ship split down the middle and the two 20 ton doors swung open to the black sea. Behind the doors, amtracs were lined up inside the belly of the ship like green, steel beetles.
On deck, the sound of the ship waking up got our minds focused on the assault ahead of us. We were going to be in the first waves of men to hit the beach. It all made sense, if you were a war planner who calculated schedules, machines, casualties and such. But we were the ones they made their plans on, so no matter how much sense it made on paper, you’re never quite ready to be in that first group – even Marines like the boys in my platoon.
They were mostly teenagers, a few were in their early twenties, and inexperienced, except for a few vets like me who rode herd. They were gung-ho and itching to get into the fight but even so, I could read their faces, being the first to face enemy fire was making them think things over.
My younger brother George, a vet of Saipan and Tinian, saw these kids back in Hawaii and asked me, “Where the hell are the vets? You’re gonna get yourself killed. Y’oughta come over to the 4th with me.”
“Nothing doin’,” I told him. “I’m stayin’ put.”
“Stubborn fuck, always were.” George spit on the deck.
Seemed like he didn’t give a shit about anything anymore. I guessed it was from Saipan – where they say things got pretty rough. Over three thousand men,including most of his friends, got killed.
We were the 5th Division. Like George said, we had a lot of the younger legs in our outfit. Those young legs would get us across the beach faster to the airfield, our first objective. But we both knew that these youngsters would take the brunt of the dying. When you know how war works, like a wolf pack on the hunt, it made sense. But it still wasn’t right.
These boys were the bravest we had. They didn’t wait to get drafted, they joined the Marines, and that should count for something. But of course, in the logic of war, it didn’t.”
Modern Day Heroes
What if we are all heroes just waiting for the right moment?
Many people, particularly young people, often suffer with fear and emotional paralysis:
• Will they ﬁnd a good job, or be able to keep the one they have?
• Will they ﬁnd love and be able to support a family?
a • Will climate change destroy the economy, or the earth itself?
• Will terrorists attack with nuclear or biological weapons?
By understanding the nature of heroism, people can restore their faith in the future and free themselves to live greater, fuller lives.
I discovered a forgotten hero of World War II named John Basilone and spent two years researching and writing his book, “I’m Staying with My Boys…” The book was published by St. Martin’s Press, and has been named to the US Marine Corps Commandant’s List of required reading for all US Marines.
But what if I had thought, “I’ve never written a book before. I don’t know anybody in the publishing business. I’ve never been in the military, so what right do I have to even think about writing this war hero’s story?”
This book never would have been written. The film I made from it would never have been made.
I probably would never have become a professional writer, my life-long dream. Heroism, in my own small way, made all of this possible.
The fact is, that a successful, fulfilling life, even survival itself requires heroism. Psychologists tell us that we make about 35,000 decisions a day, approximately one ever 30 seconds. If those decisions are all made to avoid risk, to stay safe, what kind of life would that be? Would you even survive?
Avoidance of risk doesn’t mean elimination of risk. If you stayed under the covers avoiding all risk, you’d risk starving to death. You’d risk developing a mental or physical condition that might kill you. So, being a hero at certain points, making a courageous decision to get out of bed and face the day of uncertainty, heartbreak, danger and risk, is not an option. You must be a hero to survive, and you have 35,000 opportunities every day to be a modern day hero.
To read another hero short story, click here.