A short time later, Basilone helped a Marine tank that had become trapped in an enemy minefield and was in danger of being destroyed by mortar and artillery fire. Despite the rain of exploding shells all around him, Basilone managed to guide the tank to safety. But then his luck ran out. Just minutes later, while moving along the edge of an airfield, shrapnel from an exploding mortar shell grievously wounded him. “Manila John” Basilone died about 30 minutes later. He was 27 years old.
“Manila John” Basilone Remembered
An editorial in the New York Times singled out Basilone by name for his bravery, and remarked that there had always been Americans like him who were willing to fight for America, despite knowing that their luck would not last. “The finest monument they could have,” said the newspaper, “would be an enduring resolve by all of us to this time fashion an enduring peace.”
For his gallantry on Iwo Jima on February 19, Basilone was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross and his widow was later presented this decoration and his posthumous Purple Heart. The Navy Cross, which ranks second only to the Medal of Honor as an award for combat heroism, is so sparingly awarded that Basilone is the only enlisted Marine to have received both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. He also apparently is the only Medal of Honor recipient to be killed in action after returning to combat.
Basilone is interred in Arlington National Cemetery and has not been forgotten: in July 1949, the destroyer USS Basilone (DD 824) was named in his honor. The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp bearing his likeness in November 2005. New books about him also have appeared in print: James Brady’s Hero of the Pacific, and Jim Proser and Jerry Cutter’s I’m Staying with My Boys. Finally, the 2010 HBO miniseries The Pacific also features Basilone, with actor Jon Seda playing him.
As for Lena Mae Basilone, she died in June 1999 at the age of 87. She never remarried.