John Basilone beats off Japanese on Guadalcanal

Some idea of conditions on Guadalcanal – a USMC image of one of their supply routes on the island.

FIELD TELEPHONE, still in working order after being hit by a shell fragment when a Japanese “knee-mortar” shell landed six feet away. In the absence of reliable radio communications, wire communications were heavily relied upon. The EE–8 field telephone and the sound-powered telephone were used for long and short distances, respectively.

There were pivotal battles in several places this week. On the 23rd, just as the British attacked at El Alamein, the Germans launched another ‘final assault’ at Stalingrad. On the other side of the world at Guadalcanal the Japanese were determined to evict the the US Marines from their positions around Henderson Field.

After yet another tropical downpour Sergeant John Basilone was sitting in the mud of the defensive perimeter. He was given a whispered warning over the radio that a Japanese assault force had been spotted approaching his position. His fifteen man squad found themselves at the brunt of an attack by around three thousand Japanese infantry. They were trying to overcome the U.S. Marines position by sheer weight of numbers. They almost succeeded.

Sergeant John Basilone, awarded the Medal of Honor for his determined stand on Guadalcanal.

John Basilone was to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions that night:

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action against enemy Japanese forces, above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division in the Lunga Area, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 24 and 25 October 1942.

While the enemy was hammering at the Marines’ defensive positions, Sgt. Basilone, in charge of 2 sections of heavy machine guns, fought valiantly to check the savage and determined assault. In a fierce frontal attack with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and mortar fire, one of Sgt. Basilone’s sections, with its gun crews, was put out of action, leaving only 2 men able to carry on.

Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived.

A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. His great personal valor and courageous initiative were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

John Basilone was to become a feted American hero when he returned to the USA for a publicity tour to promote war bonds. It was not a role he welcomed and he returned to the Marines to take part in the invasion of Iwo Jima in 1945. He was killed in the early hours of that action. Uniquely he was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism at Iwo Jima in addition to the Medal of Honor won at Guadalcanal.

SURVIVORS OF THE SS PRESIDENT COOLIDGE. This transport struck an Allied mine in Pallikula Bay. Espiritu Santo Island, 26 October 1942. Of the 4,000 troops aboard, only two men were lost; however, vitally needed equipment and stores went to the bottom with the ship.

FLYING FORTRESS ON A SORTIE over Japanese installations on Gizo Island in October 1942. Smoke from bomb strikes can be seen in the background. This raid was part of a series of air attacks on the enemy during the fight for Guadalcanal. Most of the B–17’s came from Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. (Boeing Flying Fortress heavy bomber B–17.)

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