RARITAN, NJ – Somerset County will create a park on Somerset Street adjacent to the John Basilone Memorial to honor the WWII Medal of Honor recipient and all United States veterans.
Freeholder Director Patricia Walsh made the announcement Friday at the site. She was joined by state, county and local officials and several veterans groups, including the Bradley Gardens American Legions Post and the Canal Walk Veteans Club of Franklin.
“I am happy to announce that the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Borough of Raritan, the county Engineering Division and the county Park Commission have been working together to enhance the area adjacent to the John Basilone Memorial,” Walsh said, noting that the county had renamed the nearby Lyman Street Bridge in memory of Basilone in 2005.
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“It will be our pleasure once again to honor Gunnery Sergeant ‘Manila John’ Basilone, the only enlisted Marine during World War II to receive the Navy Cross and the Medal of Honor,” she said. “This native son of Raritan died in February 1945 during the Battle of Iwo Jima."
“In recent years the county has purchased additional land behind the Basilone statue," she added. "Our original plan was to create a landscaped plaza with seating and parking so that visitors and residents could safely visit the monument, gather to reflect on all of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and learn the heroic story of John Basilone. All parties will work together to finalize a design that honors the rich history of this great area,” she said. “Veterans Park will be a place that residents will be proud of and serve as a reminder to our Somerset County veterans that they will never be forgotten.”
Also present were state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, R-16th, a former borough resident and Somerset County freeholder; Sheriff Frank Provenzano, Raritan Mayor Chuck McMullin, and members of the Raritan Historic Committee.
Basilone, a Raritan resident and United States Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant was 29 when he was killed on the beach at Iwo Jima Feb. 19, 1945. He had already been accorded the nation's highest military award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for heroism during the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II. He was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously.
He was the only enlisted Marine to receive both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross in WWII.
He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1940 and was deployed to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and then to Guadalcanal where he held off 3,000 Japanese troops after his 15-member unit was reduced to two other men.
Basilone has received other awards and honors. The US Postal Service has honored Basilone on a stamp; a stretch of Interstate 5 that passes through Camp Pendleton Marine base in California is called Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone Memorial Highway; Basilone’s life was also portrayed in an HBO movie.
A United States Naval destroyer commissioned in 1949 was named the USS John Basilone; it was decommissioned in 1977.
A second naval ship, DDG-122, a guided missile destroyer, was recently named in his honor.