The Grand Marshall of The 2015 Basilone Parade is Tony Lettieri
Parade is Sunday, September 20th 2015, at 1 PM in downtown Raritan
The Grand Marshall for the 2015 Basilone Parade is Tony Lettieri. During World War II he served in the US Navy aboard a highly decorated destroyer the USS Nicholas. Tony Lettieri was born in Raritan in 1926. His family lived at 21 First Avenue. His parents, like many from Raritan in that era, had been born in Italy. They both came to the U.S. as teenagers – meeting in this country. The family would have 4 children - three boys and a girl. They attended St. Ann’s Church where Tony was an altar boy.

As a youth in the 1930s he played outside with other kids without adult supervision. Some of that play was in and around the Raritan River. While that may have been considered dangerous by today’s standards, it was nothing compared to one of his other activities – shooting a gun. As a young teen Tony sometimes took has dad’s shotgun down to an open field and practiced shooting the rifle. No one ever seemed alarmed. Times have changed.
Click to see Citation
and Medals awarded to Tony
Tony remembers when he was growing up that the residents of Raritan looked out for one another. One time he was caught skipping school. As result many adults, including police chief Lorenzo Rossi, scolded him about it. They told him in various ways that if he continued that kind of behavior he would turn out to be a delinquent. All that advice set him straight and he never skipped school again.
He lived at 21 First Ave.
For the first half of World War II Tony was too young to join the military. As result he was present at John Basilone’s Welcome Home Parade in September of 1943. He recalled that many people lined up on the streets to see Basilone along with the Hollywood movie stars who rode in the parade.

At the ceremony after the parade that day the immense crowd made it hard to see, so Tony climbed a tree to get a better view. He noticed that John Basilone was just a regular guy who was not comfortable with the big fuss that was being made over him that day.
A few days after the big parade, Tony joined the Navy. They wasted little time in assigning him duty aboard the USS Nicholas. That would be his home for the next two years. He would sleep aboard that ship every night for the duration of the war.

The USS Nicholas spent the war in the Pacific Ocean. They had many types of dangerous encounters with the enemy. They shelled Japanese held islands, they gave cover to troop landings, and they escorted convoys. One of their big accomplishments came on November 12th 1944, when they sunk a Japanese Submarine. The USS Nicholas would be awarded 16 Battle Stars and would also receive The Presidential Unit Citation – thus they are ranked among the most decorated ships of World War II.
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photos of The USS Nicholas
During battles Tony manned the guns which were located on the side of the ship. Tony now says they were very fortunate. They saw how others ships were often hit. But the USS Nicholas remained intact and afloat.
Decades after the war Tony would
revisit the seat he had once occupied
Their most dangerous encounter was off the coast of the Philippines from November 27th through December 5th 1944. Here their convoy of ships survived four attacks from kamikaze plane formations. During this intense battle Tony and the other gunners fired at the kamikazes as they neared the battleship. They managed to shoot down the suicide planes that approached them. Several kamikazes crashed into the ocean just a couple hundred feet from U.S. ships.
Throughout the journey in the Pacific his ship at times was able to make stops on peaceful islands. Whenever they did Tony volunteered to go on land. He had a scientifically curious mind and he wanted to see the native people - many who were untouched by modern progress. He once talked with a native who had never seen ice. Tony went to the ship to get some ice to show him. When Tony handed the ice to him he dropped it in a panic after feeling the burning cold.
Click for larger view
When the Japanese surrendered in mid-August 1945 a surrender ceremony was scheduled on September 2nd. It would be held aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay off Japan. Admiral William Halsey invited the USS Nicholas to anchor next to the USS Missouri as the USS Nicholas had an extensive battle record throughout the war. The day of the ceremony The USS Nicholas was the lead ship as the U.S convoy entered Tokyo Bay. Before the ceremony the USS Nicholas would ferry several Allied representatives to the USS Missouri. Tony vividly recalls being just a few feet from famous Generals James Doolittle and Jonathan Wainwright.
After the war Tony would take advantage of the GI Bill and attend college at The University of Alabama where he majored in Science and History. He earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree there. After college he would teach school in the Middletown School District.

As an educator he wanted to make science fun for the kids. So he did lots of experiments with his classes. Because of that the students nicknamed him “The Mad Scientist”.
He looked out for all the students. When he first started teaching their big annual class trip was an expensive overnight trip to the Delaware Water Gap. He noticed that the poorer kids seldom went on the class trip. He thought everyone should be included, not just those that could afford it. So he restructured the trip so that it was a free (very long) day trip. After that all kids attended the trip. He would go on to be Head of the Science Department. He retired from teaching in 1991.
The Mad Scientist at work
Today, Tony Lettieri, age 89, lives in Howell with his wife Peggy.

Old friends and former students are encouraged to say hello to Tony at email