Every conflict sees many men and women held up as examples of bravery under fire. But John Basilone was the real deal. He found a brotherhood with his men -- and he led them to blood-stained glory. How much do you know about Basilone and his wartime feats?
Basilone fought in World War II and left a legacy as one of America's bravest -- and most tragic -- heroes of combat.
Basilone signed up for the Marines and embraced the Corps fundamental philosophies. He believed in fighting for something bigger than himself.
He was a kid from Buffalo, New York. John was the sixth of 10 children.
In the mid-1930s, Basilone joined the Army and served in the Philippines. When his enlistment was up, he headed home for Maryland.
Basilone gave up the Army for truck driving and almost immediately was bored out of his mind. He decided to enlist again, but this time, with the Marines.
Basilone waxed poetic about his experiences in Manila, so much so that other soldiers associated him with the city in the Philippines. They called him Manila John.
Basilone was a Gunnery Sgt. It's the seventh enlisted rank in the Marine Corps. These men are often nicknamed "gunny."
Basilone wasn't a particularly enthusiastic student. He finished middle school but then left the system before even starting high school classes.
Even in peacetime, Basilone liked gritty physical challenges. He became a standout boxer during his service in the Philippines.
Well, Cuba is nice, too, right? Manila John did not exactly get his desired destination. But it wasn't long before he'd again see the west side of the Pacific … whether he wanted to or not.
The Marines needed all the men they could get their hands on to roll back Japanese intrusions in the West Pacific. John was sent to the Pacific theater to help push the men of the Rising Sun back to Tokyo.
On August 7, 1942, the Marines launched an assault on Guadalcanal, in an effort to stymie Japanese attempts to gain air superiority in the area. Guadalcanal is legendary for being a bloody, awful mess.
The Japanese had no intentions of giving up the Guadalcanal area. They struck back in October in an effort to take Henderson Airfield from the Americans.
The Japanese sent 3,000 battle-hardened soldiers to take the airfield. They took heavy losses but inflicted the same on the Americans.
Basilone took charge of a heavy machine and directed his men to turn back the Japanese assaults. For about three days, the men desperately tried to hold on in spite of little rest, food or water.
Three Marines, including Basilone, where all that was left as the Japanese finally retreated. They left behind more than 1,000 dead, many of whom had fallen prey to Basilone's ceaseless barrage of machine gun fire.
When the machine gun became impossible to use, Basilone had no intention of retreating. He drew his .45 pistol and shot the enemy at close range.
The military brass promoted Basilone, gave him the Medal of Honor, and then sent him back to the United States. The turn of events took him and his men by surprise.
For Basilone, it was a mind-warping turn of events. He was whisked from a bloody jungle to upscale events in America where he was tasked with selling war bonds.
Basilone felt out of place as a pitchman for the military. He asked for reassignment several times but was denied.
Basilone's request for a transfer was finally granted. He was sent to Camp Pendleton to begin a new round of training.
He met a female Marine named Lena and couldn't get her out of his mind. Within months, the two decided to have an abrupt wedding ceremony.
His commanders were a bit taken aback that Basilone wanted to go back into the hellhole that was the Pacific theater. But they agreed to send him to the area again … and an epic clash was brewing.
He wanted combat, and he got it. He was sent with other Marines to find a foothold on the beaches of Iwo Jima. The Japanese were prepared for the American attack.
An American tank was under heavy fire and unable to navigate a safe passing through a minefield. Basilone escorted the tank through the mines in spite of whizzing bullets and bombs.
In 1945, the Japanese had no chance to win the war, but they fought on in places like Iwo Jima. That's where Basilone died from a Japanese mortar blast.
Lena received word of John's death on March 7, 1945. It was her 32nd birthday.
Lena never remarried. She lived until 1999 and refused to be buried next to her husband in Arlington National Cemetery because she didn't want to be an inconvenience to anyone.
Basilone was indeed the only enlisted Marine in the war to receive both of the military's highest honors, the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross. Of course, he had a Purple Heart, too.
After multiple enlistments and numerous deployments, he was still just 28 years old when he died. He was mourned as a hero, and Lena never removed her wedding band from her finger.