No Greater Love –Veteran’s Day with a Marine
As we commemorate Veteran’s Day my thoughts are drawn to John 15:13. Jesus said; “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Veteran’s Day also reminds me of another John whose life was a living reminder of so many of the things Christ did for each of us.
John Basilone grew up in Raritan, New Jersey. At 18 years old, he wanted a life of adventure, and enlisted in the U.S. Army finding himself stationed in the Philippines. Basilone grew to love the capital city and talked so much about it that his comrades gave him the nickname “Manila John”. After his three year tour he returned to Raritan where he regaled his friends with tales of the far off place he longed to return to.
Civilian life didn’t agree with the adventure seeking Basilone. He wanted desperately to return to Manila and thought his best chance would be by joining the U.S. Marine Corps. After completing boot camp in 1940, he eventually arrived in Guantanamo Bay as a member of the 1st Marine Division. In 1942, John and his men received orders that sent them to the Pacific island of Guadalcanal.
Henderson Airfield was critical to the holding the island so the Japanese sent 3,000 men to capture it. Manila John’s machine gun section held critical positions in the defensive line. For three days and nights the Marines faced wave after wave of enemy attacks. Basilone’s machine gun section had lost all but two other Marines and himself. Throughout the battle, John would crawl from position to position to keep the guns going. One of his men tells the story this way; “Basilone had a machine gun on the go for three days and nights without sleep, rest, or food. He was in a good emplacement, and causing the Japanese lots of trouble, not only firing his machine gun, but also using his pistol.” For his bravery, selflessness, and incredible actions, Manila John Basilone was awarded our nation’s highest medal, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Basilone’s story captivated the United States. World War II was a massive and expensive undertaking for the government and to finance the effort they had to sell War Bonds. John was pulled from combat and brought home to make appearances at Bond rallies. His good looks and incredible story made him quite popular. The Pentagon wanted to utilize him in this capacity for the duration of the war, but John wanted to be back with his men. He turned down a chance to be an officer and ride out the war in Washington, D.C. He wrote dozens of letters requesting permission to go back to the fighting.
The Marine Corps did agree to station John in California so he could train troops leaving to fight in the Pacific between his Bond tours. While there he met and married Lena Riggi, a Sergeant in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. None of that quieted Basilone’s feeling that he needed to be with “his men” fighting in the Pacific. The newlywed continued to petition for a return to the war. Finally the Marines relented and he landed with the forces that would fight on the island of Iwo Jima.
After hitting the beach, Manila John found his men stalled by the volcanic sand and withering enemy fire. He got them organized and moving forward only to come under the fierce pounding from a fortified enemy blockhouse. Basilone led the assault and was directly responsible for destroying the enemy emplacement and allowing his men to continue their advance. For this action he was awarded the Navy Cross. Sadly less than an hour later, John was killed, when he and a group of his Marines were struck by an artillery shell.
John Basilone could have chosen to live out his in relative comfort and ease. He had performed his duty, had a new wife and could have listened to the War Department and taken their offer to live in the States and raise money. His devotion to duty and to “his fellow Marines” would not allow that. Instead he gave up everything he “had to live for” because he knew he couldn’t “rest easy” while others were fighting and dying.
Jesus Christ could have chosen to stay in Heaven sitting beside the Heavenly Father. He left the splendor of His kingdom, the worship of angels and set aside his glorious splendor. Philippians 2: 6-8 reads: “Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.… He came and lived as a man, endured temptation and hardship; was mocked and rejected by the very people He came to save. Christ could have called 10,000 angels to come and rescue him from the cross. But He too cared more about others than self and paid the ultimate price for our salvation.
On this Veteran’s Day, I pray that you will be mindful of men like Manila John. And I hope that every day you will remember the incredible price Jesus paid for the redemption of our sins.
Written by Dean Marini