|1948 Featured Two Special "Basilone" Events|
|This year Raritan is celebrating the 70th anniversary of several significant events in its history.
As already reported it is the 70th Anniversary of the town’s independence from Bridgewater in 1948.
But it is also the 70th anniversary of John Basilone’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery and the unveiling of the Basilone Statue.
|Burial at Arlington National Cemetery (April 20th 1948)|
In 1948 the U.S. Government started to move the bodies of the soldiers killed at Iwo Jima to a final resting place in the U.S..
The government contacted the Basilone Family about the arrangements. They had a choice – John could be buried locally or at Arlington National Cemetery
which was just outside of Washington D.C. . The family needed a funeral director to work out some of the arrangements so they turned to Anthony Bongiovi,
who was partner at the Conroy-Bongiovi Funeral home which was on Somerset Street in Raritan. Initially John’s mother Dora had wanted her son to be buried locally, but funeral director Anthony Bongiovi explained to her that it is an honor for a soldier, especially one of John’s accomplishments, to be buried at the patriotic Arlington National Cemetery. So the Basilone family chose Arlington.
Since John was a Medal of Honor recipient the family was able to chosen the specific plot from within the designated area of land. They chose one close to the road. Today this makes visiting his grave convenient for those who go to the site.
|John Basilone was initially|
buried at Iwo Jima
|On the morning of the burial at Arlington a 10-car convoy of cars from Raritan took the long ride to Washington.
John’s parents Dora and Salvatore rode in a limo that was driven by Police Chief Lorenzo Rossi. John’s siblings and their spouses traveled in their own cars.
Other Raritan residents included Mayor Rocky Miele, Postmaster Dominic Soriano, Basilone’s friend Steve Del Rocco, his old boss Alfred Gaburo, Joe Navatto Jr. , and Father Russo of St. Ann’s. Everyone who travelled to Arlington that day had expected a small simple funeral. When they arrived, they were amazed. There they saw dozens of military dignitaries, a Marine Band, and uniformed soldiers. For on that day eighteen fallen soldiers that had been moved from Iwo Jima were being buried, so the Military went all out.
|Two Marines pay tribute to|
Basilone at his grave at Iwo Jima
|The services began with Chopin’s Funeral March and then a Marine Band played “Nearer My God to Thee”. Father Russo then blessed the casket.
The services ended with Taps (the military tribute song heard at funerals) played by a lone Marine bugler.
It was an impressive, inspiring service, an appropriate tribute to an unselfish hero. An American Flag had first covered the coffin, and then as is customary, it was later taken off, folded up and presented to the Basilone Family. Anthony Bongiovi, in a 2003 interview, said that the funeral was simply unbelievable. He recalled that it was during the playing of Taps that everyone became emotional. From the list of those who attended that day at Arlington, it does not appear that anyone is still alive. (John’s brother Donald, who is still alive today, was in the Marines at the time and could not attend.)
|The burial at |
Arlington National Cemetery
|Unveiling of the Basilone Statue (June 6th 1948)|
After the end of World War II Raritan wanted to build some kind of lasting tribute to their hero. At first there was talk of a library in his honor,
but then a more appropriate tribute was decided upon - a statue.
It was easy to pick who should build the statue for John’s childhood friend Philip Orlando was a sculptor/artist. Philip had also served in World War II. He saw action and earned the Bronze Star as his unit marched through France, Belgium and Germany.
|It was decided that the statue would be life size mounted on a four-foot granite pedestal.
The location would be on Raritan’s main street - Somerset - at the corner of Canal Street. This area was then known as the VFW Triangle.
Orlando used photographs and his own recollections to design it. John’s parent’s Salvatore and Dora visited with Philip Orlando at his studio and gave their endorsement.
The design he came up with is representative of John Basilone at Guadalcanal on the night he earned The Congressional Medal of Honor. John is stripped to the waist and holding the Browning machine gun that he used that night. Over his shoulder is a cartridge belt of ammunition, just like the one that he had carried through the jungle in the darkness while braving enemy fire. Around his neck is a crucifix and his “dog tags”
|Philip Orlando at his studio
in Plainfield designing the statue
|Click for profile of Philip Orlando|
|When the statue was complete Raritan scheduled a parade and ceremony for the unveiling on June 6th 1948.
The statue was quietly delivered two weeks before that. At this unannounced delivery Philip Orlando watched and a few residents snuck a peak as a
large crane lifted the heavy statue onto the granite base. The statue was then anchored and a canvas cover was placed over it.
The unveiling day featured a parade and ceremony similar to today’s Basilone Parade. There were numerous military groups and civic organizations that marched down Somerset Street as thousands watched. The local newspaper estimated the large crowd at over 10,000.
|A parade went through Raritan|
before the statue unveiling
|After the parade came the unveiling ceremony that everyone was waiting for.
First a Marine Band played the Marine Hymn. When the song ended it became quiet and John’s mother Dora approached the statue as the crowd eagerly watched. She pulled a cord that caused the cover to fall to the ground. At first a wave of awe sprang from the crowd, then there was a long moment of silent admiration.
Six wreaths, each with one letter spelling out “At Rest”, were then placed in front of the statue.
|John's mother unveils the statue|
|A few speakers addressed the crowd.
U.S. Congressman Charles Eaton spoke saying “American is safe with men like John Basilone ready to fight for it.”
Mayor Rocky Miele also spoke saying “John Basilone, our boyhood chum, stands before us immortal. He died to make democracy live and to keep us free. Let him be the inspiration for our efforts, for the preservation of peace.” The mayor then read a list of the other Raritan men who died fighting for our country.
Statue maker Philip Orlando spoke briefly. He said that he had been unable to visual Basilone in an angry fighting mood, so he depicted him at a moment of victory.
For 70 years now, the statue has stood as an enduring tribute to John Basilone and the ongoing fight for freedom and democracy.
|Chuck Tatum, who fought along side Basilone at|
Iwo Jima, visited Raritan a couple times.