Combat Leadership: Sgt John Basilone


John Basilone, USMC, Medal of Honor, Navy Cros...
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Sergeant John Basilone
U.S. Marine Corps
Guadalcanal, 1942

In August, 1942, the 1st Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal, encountering stiff resistance from the Japanese defenders. Sgt John Basilone served as a machine gun platoon sergeant in support of Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.

On the night of 24 October, Sgt Basilone’s platoon occupied a key position in the battalion’s defensive perimeter on a jungle ridge. Just past 2130, the Japanese began a ferocious attack. In the dark rainy night, intense fighting followed, and soon the machine gun unit on Basilone’s right was overrun by screaming Japanese soldiers hurling grenades and firing rifles. At the same time, Basilone’s machine guns started running low on ammunition. Basilone knew that the enemy that had broken through on his right were between him and the ammunition dump, but he decided that if his gun teams were not resupplied, the positions would fall.

Sgt Basilone took off his heavy mud caked boots, stripped himself of all unnecessary gear, and sprinted down the trail. After returning with several belts of ammunition, he set out for the unmanned gun pits to his right, knowing that those heavy weapons were vital tools in the defense of the ridge.

When he got to the gun positions, he found the two unoccupied machine guns jammed, and ran back to get one of his own. He ordered a team to follow him. After Basilone’s gun crew reached their destination, he immediately put them into action. Basilone lay on the ground and began repairing one of the damaged weapons. Once the gun was repaired and loaded, he got behind the gun and began engaging targets. The fight raged on, and Japanese bodies began to pile up in front of the machine guns. At one point, Sgt Basilone had to direct his Marines to push back the piles of bodies to maintain clear fields of fire.

Several more times during the night, Sgt Basilone made trips back to the command area for desperately needed ammunition. Eight separate attacks were sent against the Marines that night, and Basilone’s platoon fired over 25,000 rounds. They were credited with killing an estimated 300 enemy soldiers, playing a major role in thwarting the Japanese attack. This successful defense reestablished the perimeter of the 1st Marine Division, protected the vital airfield, and led to the conquest of Guadalcanal, the first island taken from the Japanese. For his initiative,resourcefulness and leadership in defense of the ridge, Sgt Basilone was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Lessons:

  • Tactically, Sgt Basilone understood his role in the defense of the ridge and the intent of the company and battalion commanders. His machine guns served a pivotal role in the company and battalion defense plan. He took numerous actions necessary to ensure his battalion’s success. This included making the decision to weaken one position in order to fortify an adjacent unit’s position to his right.
  • Sgt Basilone exhibited great leadership during the defense. He went to great lengths to provide his unit with whatever tools were necessary to maintain the defense of the ridge. His courage in braving enemy fire to deliver ammunition set an example for his Marines.

Source:

Lieutenant M.M. Obalde and Lieutenant A.M. Otero. “The Squad Leader Makes the Difference: Readings on Combat at the Squad Level. Volume I”

Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, 1998

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