Sadly, some heroes are lost to time and memory after they pass. Some are immortalized as legends, and part of our mission at American Heroes Smokehouse is to share the stories of brave men and women for generations to come. We do this not just to preserve their memory, but to continue their legacy by inspiring new acts of valor, courage and kindness. As far as military heroes go, Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone’s legacy has been pretty well-preserved, but he holds a special place in our Hall of Heroes all the same.
John Basilone is from the same hometown as one of our founders, Ed Danberry. A larger-than-life statue of Basilone casts an imposing shadow in Raritan, where John grew up. Sculpted by his childhood friend and fellow combat veteran, Phillip Orlando, funds for the statue were raised through a nationwide appeal. Stripped to the waist, slinging a Browning machine gun, John is commemorated forever holding his position against 3,000 Japanese forces in Guadalcanal. At the June 6, 1948 unveiling of the statue, Raritan Mayor Rocky Miele (who was the uncle of our founder, Ed Danberry) made this statement:
John Basilone, our boyhood chum, stands before us immortal. He died to make democracy live and to keep us free. Let him be the inspiration for our efforts, for the preservation of peace.
Tales of John Basilone’s heroism live in popular culture (think: The Pacific, on HBO), Marine lore, and the concerted efforts of those who continue to honor him. Basilone is honored every year with a parade in Raritan, which was known as “The Most Patriotic Town” in America. Two United States Navy destroyers bear his name, along with countless streets, a stretch of freeway near Camp Pendleton, various military locations, and one very grueling training challenge for new Marine recruits. If you don’t know why his legacy lives on in so many forms, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: in October of 1942, John’s unit came under attack on the Solomon Islands, at the Battle for Henderson Field. A land, sea, and air battle in the Pacific Theater of WWII, a force of 20,000 Imperial Japanese Army battled the Allied Forces, made up heavily of American Marine and Army forces. A regiment of 3,000 Japanese soldiers launched a frontal attack against the American’s heavy machine guns. After three days of fighting, the only Americans left standing were John and two other Marines. Running critically low on ammunition, John single-handedly fought his way through 150 yards of enemy lines, armed only with a pistol and machete. By the time the engagement was over, John had killed at least 38 enemy soldiers.
The Marine recruits of Company C at Camp Pendleton experience firsthand the extent of superhuman strength required of Basilone. In a grueling 54 hour training exercise known as “The Crucible,” one challenge in particular stands out: the Basilone Challenge. After two days of heavy exertion with limited food & sleep, recruits face a nearly vertical climb carrying heavy ammunition cans. In Guadalcanal, John Basilone held his position for three days without sleep, rest or food. In the Company C challenge, recruits must draw not just on their reserves of physical strength, but on their leadership skills and mental fortitude as well. But it shouldn’t be just Marines, or Raritan’s citizens who remember Basilone’s legacy. For that reason, we’ll continue to share tales of American heroes on our site and in our restaurants.