Semper Fi! The 28th
Annual John Basilone Day Parade in Raritan, New Jersey. For twenty one years John Pacifico chaired the Parade Committee that led the town’s dedication to their local hero. It’s the only parade in America for one celebrated enlisted man.
They come from all over to honor Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Purple Heart, recipient Marine Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone: the only enlisted man with a MOH to go back into war. That choice required going to Camp Pendleton first. There he met, fell in love and married Marine Sergeant Lena Mae Riggi. Hawaii beckoned then Iwo Jima took his life at twenty eight on its
World War 11 sinking black sands.
This rainy, fall, John Basilone Day is for all veterans.. They are our heroes, bringing the past to the present
Thousands line Somerset Street. Floats appear, then military and school bands. Bagpipers pipe in plaid kilts before The Rolling Thunder, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Leatherneck Pipe and Drums, Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, National Guard, Coast Guard and St. Ann’s School. Tots swat flags at the Marine Color Guard while catching thrown tootsie rolls
Veterans wave from trucks, motorcycles or cars that list wars on doors and embroidered red jackets. Some wear blue crew hats printed USS Basilone DD-824. The Navy Destroyer namesake junked after Viet Nam.
WW11 Veterans walk with a shuffle now, a button popping from a shirt. Those in wheel chairs roll by not complaining of lost limbs. The Marine Quantico Band from Quantico VA trumpets… From the halls of Montezuma…to grey/white heads held high with starched pride. A golden glint rises in their eyes. It’s the light of the past reawakening when they mattered; living danger, excitement, purpose and camaraderie. Upon return their life dimmed to worn battle tales told in barber shops, to listener’s veiled lack of respect.
Once a year on John Basilone Day it’s different. It’s safe to show what’s deep inside. With curved backs, lined chiseled faces spark a crisp salute passing the reviewing stand. Sometimes a tear trickles down a white beard as they acknowledge 2009’s guest from the Pentagon: Lt. General Duane Theissen,
as it did
to past guests: Colonel Anthony Zinni,
Robert Magnus, Governor Jon Corzine, Clinton Watters, General George Flynn, NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, NYC City Council President Christine Quinn, etc.
And I watch veterans deep connections to strangers forever united by a salute; their bonded ring. I hear “To the shores of Tripoli” It’s the silence between the notes they hear. Once a Marine always a Marine its valued message.
I stare at a gung-ho young boy in camouflage green, greased face; a rack of bullets across his chest. He frightens me. Is he our future? More war? I don’t want him to die.
The Buddhists say: “We all have a war inside. If we healed that there would not be the war outside.” A favorite saying of author Frank Mc Court flashes: “It will be a great joy when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”
Onward to the park’s laying of wreaths at the John Basilone statue. Donald Basilone, his last remaining brother gets first honor; others follow. A church lady
in a red hat sings “God Bless America” All join in.
LT. General Theissen speaks: “His example challenges us. Throughout our history we have turned to young men and women to defend this country. Occasionally, a person comes along and defines an organization.”
Gun shots rip in tribute. The flag raising on volcanic Mount Suribachi is re- enacted next to blooms of yellow chrysanthemums. A mournful Taps is played.
Then, like a switch flipped, the town empties, quickly. All are gone. Nothing Stirs. Raritan is a ghost town. Was it real? Or like Brigadoon.
Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Gary Goetzman and HBO have a ten part mini series The Pacific due in March 2010. (answer to their Band of Brothers) It’s about three hero’s lives. One is John Basilone. Actor Jon Seda who plays him led this parade, rewinding footsteps of Basilone’s early life. My Aunt, Lena Riggi Basilone. is played by Annie Parisse. She died wearing his ring.