I've been watching "The Pacific" series, which follows the storied 1st Marine Division from Guadalcanal to Okinawa, with special focus on the career of Medal of Honor winner Sgt. John Basilone.
I didn't know Manila John, even though he was a fellow member of the 5th Marine Division. But like all Marines of that era, I all but worshipped this gutsy hero who refused to use his award of the nation's highest military honor to carve out a soft spot stateside in his beloved corps.
Instead, weary of the demands his celebrity imposed on him, he chose to return to the Pacific theater of war and died doing what he did best: being a Marine warrior facing the enemy on Iwo Jima's blood-soaked beach.
Co-producer Tom Hanks did a memorable job in portraying Basilone for this HBO miniseries, revealing much about his personal life and what he sacrificed as a new husband when he went ashore on D-Day on Iwo Jima. He died as he had lived — giving all he had to give without regard for his own safety.
He was not alone — 6,000 U.S. Marines died on that wretched pile of volcanic rock and sand in less than 30 days, and a lot of them were my fellow Marines of D Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Division.
I should have been among them, but as they fought their way from one end of the island to the other, I was back in the states, where I was sent to attend the Naval Academy Prep School in combat-free Bainbridge, Md.
It wasn't my choosing, but I can't help feeling guilty that I was not where I should have been, on the sands of Iwo Jima sharing the fate of the men I trained with for more than a year in California and Hawaii.
I am approaching my 84th birthday, fighting another battle, this time with cancer, but thanks to Tom Hanks, for a little while once a week, I'm still a healthy 17-year-old in the company of the finest human beings on the face of the earth, my fellow Marines.
May the Lord have mercy on the souls of John Basilone and all the other Marines who gave up their lives on Iwo Jima and all those other hellish islands in the Pacific.
Phil Brennan is editor and publisher of Wednesday on the Web (http://WWW.pvbr.Com) and was Washington columnist for National Review magazine in the 1960s. He is also a trustee of the Lincoln Heritage Institute and a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. He can be reached at [email protected]
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