The documentary film, “John Basilone: Legacy of a Hero,” is a documentary that seeks to answer the question why 77 years after his death John Basilone is still celebrated; by the Marine Corps as part of their Recruit Training, by the town of Raritan, New Jersey in the form of an annual parade. There was a time that it was highly doubtful that such a project would ever be made.
For 13 years Diane called France home, and she felt living abroad would be permanent; however, the spirit of her Uncle John had different plans for her. In 2008 an HBO executive producer contacted her to discuss a project about the Pacific Theater in which her uncle would be a main character. This project destined to be the award-winning epic called “The Pacific,” told the true stories and experiences of three Marines during famous battles during that war. One of those Marines was her uncle and Diane was asked to help develop his character and how he would be portrayed.
Diane was thrilled and honored to assist in telling the story of Uncle John. After all she was well prepared to explain the man she had heard stories about since she was in her mother’s womb. Ironically, Aunt Mary had tried for years to have a film made about her brother, she even contacted John Wayne to portray him! Taking on this project involved lots of time and numerous interviews so it was only practical to move back to New York City.
Deciding this might be the best time to film a documentary about Uncle John, Diane visited the Marine Corps Public Affairs Office in Manhattan. She met Lieutenant Colonel Murphy and was given a bag of black Iwo Jima sand. He had visited Iwo Jima multiple times escorting Marine Corps VIPs, many themselves veterans of the bloody battle during which her uncle was killed. He then suggested that she trace her uncle’s footsteps in the Pacific battlefields and rest areas where he had been. She learned new stories about her uncle from a different perspective than the family had of a brother and son. Diane learned about her Uncle John the Marine.
The first destination on Diane’s journey was where her Uncle John took his last steps; Iwo Jima. The occasion was the 65th Anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima, where her uncle earned a posthumous Navy Cross, the second highest award for bravery in combat. The night before leaving, Diane attended the premier of “The Pacific” in Los Angeles and had a second chance to meet Chuck Tatum, who had served under her uncle on Iwo, and his family. She also had the privilege to meet the family members of Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge, the other two Marines featured in “The Pacific.” There were many Hollywood stars in attendance at this event, but meeting members of her Marine family meant the most to Diane.
Walking in the thick black volcanic sand of Iwo Jima was a chilling experience. On this trip, Diane was able to interview numerous Veterans who not only fought beside her uncle but who knew him well. While walking along the beach Diane had a premonition and said out loud “I know I will be back again,’ and she did, for the 70th Anniversary.
Next destination was Guadalcanal, the largest of the Solomon Islands, and where the first Pacific battle of the “Island-hopping” campaign involving US forces was fought. There is where her Uncle John performed the heroic actions over October 24 and 25, 1942 for which he would receive the Medal of Honor. It is also a very difficult place to reach except for Valor Tours, an organization that brings Veterans and their families to the far-off battle sites in the South Pacific. Diane landed on the very airfield that her uncle was protecting. With the help of Australian John Innes Diane was able to step foot in the exact fighting position her Uncle John occupied during the battle.
Another stop on her journey was where her uncle recovered from the horrors of Guadalcanal; Australia. Diane went to Melbourne, specifically to the Citation Oval, where Uncle John first had the Medal of Honor placed around his neck. There were four Marines honored on that day in May 1943, but Uncle John was the first Enlisted Man to be so honored. She also visited the Philippines where he was stationed when he was in the Army and earned the nickname “Manila John.” At each of these places Diane met with Veterans and interviewed them. Through meeting these people Diane learned that not only her Uncle John, but all the men who fought alongside him were heroes.
Back in the United States there were more Veterans to meet and interviews. Diane visited numerous Marine Corps League Detachments and told the story of the uncle whose footsteps she traced. In 2011, Diane had the chance to represent her uncle and receive his award of being inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Near where her uncle is buried at Arlington National Cemetery Diane would meet up in Washington DC with the Veterans that the Indiana-based Honor Flights took to visit the memorials. More chances for interviews, with Veterans of WW2, Korea, and Vietnam, even meeting Veterans who had met her uncle.
The documentary is now in the editing phase piecing together all those interviews of people who remember her uncle, from his time in the Marines, New Jersey, the training grounds, and on battlefields.