During Women’s History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Marine Corps Veteran Lena Basilone, who served during World War II.
Growing up on her family’s farm in Salem, Oregon, Lena Basilone was the daughter of Italian immigrants who instilled in her the values of hard work and self-reliance. After graduating high school, Basilone left her family’s farm and moved to Portland to attend business school. When World War II started, she left school to join the newly formed Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. Her husband later said, “[Lena] joined the Marine Corps because she wanted to be with the top outfit in the war effort.”
Following basic training, Basilone served at Camp Pendleton, California, where she worked as a field cook and met fellow Marine John Basilone. He received a Medal of Honor for successfully defending Henderson Field against the Japanese in October 1942. He later returned to the U.S. to help raise funds for bond drives. John liked Lena for her tough attitude and self-assured nature. After a whirlwind romance, Lena and John married in July 1944 at Camp Pendleton. He deployed with the 1st Marine Division in December 1944, and in February 1945, he participated in the invasion of Iwo Jima and died in battle. She learned of his death less than a month later on her 32nd birthday and traveled to her husband’s hometown of Raritan, New Jersey, to present his parents with his Medal of Honor. Lena Basilone honorably discharged from the Marine Corps as a sergeant.
On Dec. 21, 1945, Basilone attended the christening ceremony of the Navy destroyer USS Basilone, named in her husband’s honor. She worked for an electrical company after leaving the military. She was a volunteer for several Veterans organizations such as the Long Beach Veterans Hospital, American Veterans Auxiliary and Women Marines Association.
Basilone passed away in June 1999 at the age of 86. She is buried at Riverside National Cemetery in California; her husband John is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. In 2010, HBO produced a mini-series titled “The Pacific,” which portrayed the experiences of John and two of his comrades during World War II.
“Lena was a very determined lady, loved by many….when she saw a need, she would go about filling it,” her friend Barbara Garner said in Basilone’s June 1999 obituary.
We honor her service.
Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.
It’s easy to nominate a Veteran. Visit our blog post about nominating to learn how to create the best submission.
Writer: Sarah Concepcion
Editors: Theresa Lyon and Annabelle Colton
Fact checker: Anthony Mendez
Graphic artist: Katie Rahill