Come on you guys, we got to get these guns off the beach,” were the last words of Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone, according to his niece, Diane Hawkins. Moments later, he was struck by enemy fire and fell on the beach of Iwo Jima, Japan. Still, he made an effort to pick himself up and continue his attack before he succumbed to his wounds seconds later.
This act was just that of a Medal of Honor Marine, but nonetheless, a common virtue of all Marines during the Battle
of Iwo Jima.
Just two years earlier and several islands south on Guadalcanal is where Basilone faced a full on attack from the Japanese while he was manning a machine gun with his fellow Marines from 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. With his machine gun and pistol, Basilone’s gallantry was a major part of smothering the attack, killing 38 Japanese soldiers.
Today, Marines embrace these stories of their predecessors, instilling the legacies as a motive to live and serve by. America honors the men who fought these battles. But the Second World War was just another milestone for the Marine Corps and the Marine legacy.
The history is still among us. The men who fought these legendary battles are still reminiscing of the days they faced the enemy with their M1 service rifles and bayonets.
Sgt. Cyril O’Brien, a combat correspondent who was attached to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, told his stories by way of ink and paper of the Marines and sailors who fought “some of the bitterest battles” during the Pacific Campaign.
“I was a boot and I was on patrol every day,” said O’Brien, a native of Camden, N.J., remembering his days on Guam. “With each new position we took on the island, the closer to the enemy we were – until one day we were pretty much on top of them.
“The aggression was high during these fights. I saw some of the bitterest battles unfold in front of me.”
His first landing was on Guam, July 21, 1944. Though his landing on Iwo Jima was not on D-Day, he was able to see the American flag rise on Mount Suribachi.
“It’s important that our children and grandchildren know these stories. If it weren’t for the Marines who faced these horrific battles and enduring times in the Pacific, things would be a lot different today – a lot different,” said O’Brien. “We have to let people know what the [those] young men did to honor our country.”
Former Marine Pfc. Lawrence Michael Pinto, an intelligence clerk who was deployed to Iwo Jima in 1945, said it’s important that Americans, especially military, recognize the history of the nation and honor her veterans.
“Our history dating back to the revolution were men and women who fought for the freedom that we all enjoy today,” said Pinto, who also served in the Army and retired as a command sergeant major. “This freedom has to be preserved. As veterans, we try to sound the importance of our history through our communities honoring veterans, walls of honor at our parks, visiting national cemeteries, and lecturing at schools.”
Pinto, a West Hempstead, N.Y., native, said he does his part to continue the legacy of the Marines and can always recall his memories of the sands of Iwo Jima – “black sand that you sink into, smelly sulfur rising from the beach, the night artillery landing on ammunition.”
Pinto said there was nothing the Marines could do but to but to dig deeper into the smelly sand and immerse yourself in these elements.
“But it all started to look a little better the day the flag was raised at the top of Mt. Suribachi,” said Pinto.