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Largest military parade honors USMC legend

By Sgt. Randall A. Clinton | | September 27, 2009

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The largest military parade of the year doesn't march past Times Square or weave through the nation's capital. It's here, in a 7,000-person town, where generals come to pay tribute to a Marine Corps legend. 

For 28 years the hometown of Marine Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone, Medal of Honor and Navy Cross recipient, has celebrated his life and sacrifice the last weekend of September.

"This is a tribute to John Basilone, a nation's hero and all heroes. Some of them, like John, made the supreme sacrifice," said Anthony DeCicco, Raritan's mayor from 1983-1999. 

The celebrations used to coincide with Basilone's birthday in November, but the town moved the event a month earlier to keep out election politics, said the town's longest serving mayor.

Not only is this parade the largest military march in the nation, DeCicco said, it is "the only parade for an enlisted Marine." 

"We try to keep his name alive nationally," he said pointing to area bridges and other landmarks renamed for the town's decorated son. "I say, ‘I'm from Raritan, home of John Basilone.’"

According to Basilone's Medal of Honor citation, "(he moved) an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrives. A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. Basilone, at great risk to his own life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment." 

Basilone's survival in those conditions shows the uniqueness of his actions when put into context among his peers. More than half of those who received the Medal of Honor during WWII were killed in combat and none of the six service members to warrant the military’s top decoration for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan survived their heroic efforts. 

Lt. Gen. Duane D. Thiessen, Deputy Commandant for Programs and Resources, spoke to the crowd of the legacy of Basilone before laying wreaths at his statue.  

"His example challenges us," He said. "Throughout our history we have turned to young men and women to defend this country. Occasionally, a person comes along and defines an organization."

Alongside military and other special guests to lay wreaths on what the town proclaimed "John Basilone Day," was John's youngest brother, Donald. 

Like his brother, he joined in the Marine Corps, although by 1947 when he did his brother had been dead for two years.

“I was in headquarters, not a fighter,” he said distinguishing his elder brother’s service.  

"He died in '45. It's a long time and having this parade, it's fabulous," said the last surviving of the 10 Basilone children. 

"I think the legacy makes people feel proud. We're Americans, that's the main thing, and this keeps the spirit of America alive." 

Diane Hawkins, John's niece, is undertaking a documentary about her uncle.

"It's about how his life affected so many others. There are just so many different stories."  

The most obvious of ways might be here, in this quaint New Jersey town where the largest military parade, Marine Corps generals and politicians come year after year to pay respect, she said. 

"He's not here, but look at this."


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