America has a long history of military members who have shown extraordinary courage, with many willingly giving their lives to secure the freedoms our nation enjoys, freedoms we often take for granted. On Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) we honor the sacrifice of these brave men and women.
World War II (1941-1945) was an especially deadly war, with over 400,000 Americans being killed in famous military engagements such as the Battle of the Bulge and D-Day as well as in many other lesser known battles. Each life lost, whether in a major or an obscure battle, helped win peace and end tyranny. There were many heroes in that war, sung and unsung.
One amazing example of heroism occurred during the Campaign of Guadalcanal (August 1942-February 1943). Sergeant John Basilone and his handful of men were responsible for holding back a Japanese assault of thousands on October 24-25, 1942. Basilone, throughout this engagement, personally repaired and manned multiple machine guns. At times, he was unable to shoot his guns over the piles of dead Japanese who fell at the brink of his hill. When his small detachment ran low, Basilone fought his way through the Japanese lines to resupply critically-needed ammunition. The Americans eventually won this long campaign. As a result of his actions, Basilone was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. (The picture on the left is of a magazine personally signed by Basilone, one of the many World War II treasures we have in the WallBuilders library.)
Later in the war at the Battle of Iwo Jima (February 19-March 26, 1945), Basilone came ashore with the first wave of Marines. Shortly after landing, his unit was trapped by machine guns from Japanese blockhouses. Basilone worked his way around one of these blockhouses and single-handedly destroyed it. Later, as he was making his way towards an airfield, he came across an American tank trapped in a minefield. While under fire, he guided the tank out of the minefield and to safety. He was later killed by flying shrapnel. Basilone was awarded the Navy Cross for his courageous actions during the battle.
There are many additional stories of heroic and noble acts by American soldiers throughout our history. This Memorial Day as we remember the military members who lost their lives in battle, let us honor the courage they showed.