Sgt Lena Mae (Riggi) Basilone

Lena Basilone.Thanks to a character in the recent television series called “The Pacific”, the name of a female Marine has made an appearance on the pop culture radar: Lena Mae Riggi.

If the name does not sound familiar, you may recognize her married name: Basilone.

She was the wife of John Basilone, one of the famous Marines every Marine Corps recruit learns about at boot camp. He is often discussed in Marine Corps history classes but no one ever mentions that his wife was a Marine too.

The television show featured her as a significant character in the final episode: “The Pacific” Part 8: Iwo Jima: While he is training a company of recruits in the fine art of killing Japanese, Basilone meets Lena Riggi, a female Marine just turned 30 and cynical as hell about the advances of yet another lonely guy in uniform, especially a celebrity who can get the best tables at the nicest restaurants.

But the cynicism did not last, and Lena and John married in the summer of 1944:

(source)

Not long after their wedding he shipped out to Iwo Jima and in February of 1945 he was killed in battle. This is where the television show concludes and unfortunately for curious viewers, the show apparently did not include any follow-up information about John Basilone’s widow.

Lena never remarried and she lived in California until her death in 1999. One of her few, if not only, public appearances after John’s death was about nine months after he died. She was the official sponsor of the destroyer named after him, the USS Basilone, and she participated in its christening ceremony: 


Sergeant Lena Mae Basilone, USMC(WR), ship’s sponsor, prepares to christen the destroyer, at the Consolidated Steel Company Shipyard, Orange, Texas, on 21 December 1945.

From her Find-A-Grave entry and her obituary:

Lena Mae Riggi was born on March 7, 1913 in Portland, Oregon. Her parents were Italian immigrants. When she reached adulthood she left Oregon to attend business school. During World War II she enlisted in the Marine Corps. She was stationed at Camp Pendleton where she served as a field cook on the base attaining the rank of Sergeant.

During her time there she met John Basilone, a Marine and the first United States decorated World War II hero. They were married on July 7, 1944 and spent some time together before John returned to the South Pacific. Lena's obituaryHe was killed on February 19, 1945 in an exchange of heavy gunfire on Iwo Jima. Lena was notified of his death on March 7, 1945 – her 32nd birthday.

Lena never remarried. She purchased a home in Lakewood, California and lived there for over 50 years until her death. She worked for the electric company and volunteered countless hours of her time at the Women’s Marine Association, the American Veteran’s Auxiliary, and the Long Beach Veteran’s Hospital. Just three days after Lena’s death a resolution was passed naming a 17 mile stretch of the San Diego (I-5) Freeway near Camp Pendleton ‘Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone Memorial Highway’.

Although the Veterans Administration offered to bury Lena in Arlington Cemetery near her husband, she refused the offer saying she “didn’t want to cause trouble for anyone”.

She was laid to rest in the National Cemetery at Riverside, California.

Lena Basilone's gravestone.

  75 comments for “Sgt Lena Mae (Riggi) Basilone

  1. 20 Jun 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Wow…I just started reading “I’m Staying With My Boys”, the book about her husband. Thanks for posting her story.

  2. George
    24 Jun 2010 at 2:21 pm

    God bless Sgt. Lena Basilone and the Women Marines.

    Semper Fi

  3. David
    7 Nov 2010 at 11:35 am

    She was a Marine, so she already earns much respect. That she and Gunnery Sgt. Basilone so deeply loved only makes that respect more profound. Thank you, to the Sergeants Basilone for their service, and may God have united you again in heaven. We, as a nation, have been blessed to have such people serving to defend us.

  4. Dave Nelson
    11 Nov 2010 at 6:06 pm

    As a veteran, I have profound respect for her service to this country. God Bless, her and her husband!!!!

  5. Sgt. Barrios
    4 Feb 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Its the women our lives that makes coming home worth it.
    Semper FI

  6. SSG Richard"Rick"Doc" Borenstein,Medic Retired
    17 Jul 2011 at 2:33 am

    SSG.Rick”Doc”: I completed 33 yrs of service to the US Army.My uncles and cousins have been Marines. Some were there when I wanted to to be a Marines,and the rules said I could not be one. I had to settle for the Army. My dad was a medic on Peleliu. I have seen what they went through and it mirrors my own combat experiences,5 deployments worth.since 1991 to 2007.Lena Basilone and John were my heros and did their jobs to what they knew was their best. The Army for many years was their home and that was all they knew.Their dedication to our country made us what we are today.To me John and Lena Basilone are larger than life legends to me. I grew up learning all about both of them.The Marines were blessed to have these soldiers.This is why we are a free country by their mere presence
    Semper Fi Doc(Yes,like my dad I’m a medic too)

  7. David Rodgers
    15 Aug 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Does anyone know what was behind her comment related to possible burial for herself at Arlington National Cemetery……’ I do not want to be a bother to anyone’ ? Thanks, Dave

    • 26 Apr 2016 at 12:34 am

      I guess she told her friend Barbara that she didn’t want to bother anyone which is silly. My god she was a hero as well as her husband. The Greatest Generation. I wish i was around then. America was so much better i am sure.

      • ssg rick doc borenstein ret
        26 Apr 2016 at 2:14 pm

        Robin: Ask Barbara About what Lena said ” I don’t want to bother anyone” because she was like a daughter to Lena. I knew Lean briefly due to my dealings with the VA in Long Beach. Lena saw to it that I got the care I needed that day and helped me work through the system there. I am eternal grateful for that help. The other person that helped vets in the LA area was Audie L Murphy’s wife, Terry. She helped a lot of vets navigate the system at LAs VA. I see that your family had a lot of marines and sailors, as are some members of my family. As far as a documentary for Lena and John Basilone ,the Pacific is the only one I know of. They were both rare kind of Marines. They were both technically saavy at their jobs and legendary leaders as NCOs.They are heros to me, as the members of my family who answered the call and still do to this day, my family in Israel. I have never regret a moment of my 34 yrs of service. Regards, SSg Rick “Doc” Borenstein ret, US Army Medical Dept.

  8. ssg rick "doc " borenstein ret. us army combat medic i
    16 Aug 2011 at 11:10 am

    David Rodgers: I found MSG Riggi was a marine of her own and even so at Long Beach VA. She said being married to John Basilone was the best thing in her life. She even said when you had the best,who wants the rest especially after John was killed at Iwo Jima. She helped a lot of soldiers out throughout her long life of service.I thing she wanted to remain in the background. She was buried at Riverside National Cemetary at her request. She did many things that were bigger than herself.including returning John’s medal of honor to his family, well as his insurance.Lena was in charge of her life as well as her marines she served with.To me and other she is a legend in a league of her own and many women Marines I have know are the same way.Lena was definetly her own person, if that helps you understand her.
    Regards,
    “Doc”
    P.S.: My dad was the same way even though. He was an Army NCO in his mind. We both turned down comissions to be officers many times in spite of field commanders and general recommendations. We both felt there was bigger job to medics. He also was at Peleliu with the the 321st or 81st divisions he never said much about it. He became a doctor and served his community well. He did things bigger than himself and didn’t want the limelight. A simple handshake and thank you was all the recognition he wanted.I also feel Lena found out John was killed on her 32nd birthday. Thats a hard thing to take, but she took it and carried on.

  9. David Rodgers
    16 Aug 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Doc…..thanks for the reply. I think I am beginning to understand Lena a bit better. Just thought her comment about not wanting to be a bother to anyone was a bit unusual…..but am beginning to see that it was instead just very much in her character. Think we need more people like Lena, your Dad, and yourself. Regards, David

    • catherinetodd3
      14 Jun 2018 at 5:02 pm

      I still don’t understand Lena’s comment about “not wanting to be a bother to anyone” and NOT be buried near her husband to be quite strange. Doesn’t make sense to me at all, along with returning his medal of honor and insurance to his family. What would make someone cut the connection so completely, yet state that she “had the best?”

  10. ssg rick "doc " borenstein ret. us army combat medic i
    16 Aug 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Thank You David. My father and I did our jobs as we were expected to by our comrades and as we expected to. The service teachs you to do things bigger than yourself. Again, Lena Basilone was in a league of her own and very much ahead of her time. She is one of the marines who made the corps what it is today.

  11. David S.
    29 Oct 2011 at 2:33 am

    Came here because I just saw the 8th Episode of “The Pacific”. Words fail me when I try to convey my sense of admiration and appreciation for people like the Basilones. I am confident that they have been reunited and are now able to enjoy the chance to be together forever that the war took away from them. God bless!

    • ssg rick "doc " borenstein ret. us army combat medic i
      30 Oct 2011 at 10:24 am

      David: World War II in the Pacific was a war I hope humankind doesn’t engage n again for a while. Lena did not have John very long, in fact 7 months. On her 32nd birthday she receive word of John’s death on Iwo Jima.He was one of the many who laid their lives down for not only fellow Marines, but also for US Army airmen in crippled B29s who could not return to the Mariana Island base and would have had to face the perils of the Pacific. Instead, Iwo Jima turned out to be a life raft. My uncles Dwight, Gil and Corky fought on Iwo. Many airmens lives were saved as a result because fighter escort was there too to shepard the bombers that went to Japan. Japan lost a key advantage of giving
      Japan two hours of early warning of raids. This saved innumerable lives.John and Lena Basilones were legends.they contributed mightily to our victory inthe Pacific. Later, untold number of Japanese lives would be spared too. The war was shortend by what they did. Lena too lived a life of service Helping many veterans. Their sacrifice was NOT in vain. We are a better world because of them Regards, Doc.

      • catherinetodd3
        14 Jun 2018 at 5:05 pm

        Ric, thank you for pointing out “Lena did not have John very long, in fact 7 months.” I didn’t realize that! Oh, my, it must have been terrible for her. I wonder why she only appeared in public the one time on his behalf… Did she ever say more about her husband or her marriage? Why did she not want to be buried with or near him?

  12. Robert DeWitt
    13 Nov 2011 at 12:24 am

    I know that she and her husband are together today as they have been since her death. They both are heros of mine.

  13. 29 Nov 2011 at 2:29 pm

    I was never one to really say anything religious. I just have very much respect for both John and Lena for making the personal sacrifice, and for John making the ultimate sacrifice. Most people are very selfish in life and I find that time and life itself are the most valuable things. If I myself was able to sacrifice myself to save even 2 people I had never met, believe me, I would do that. I know through history lessons and though reading many books that John Basilone had done exactly what I would have done if given the chance. May they both rest in peace and live on in the history they helped write. Thank you both for your service to the greatest nation in the world. I myself was never able to enlist or join any branch of the service due to many medical issues, but I had tried many times. I guess being a diabetic with a full ankle replacement i would just be more of a problem for the military rather than a help. I have to just say Thank you to everyone who is in any branch of the military who reads this.

    I did start watching “The Pacific” after reading a few of these comments, and I have to say that it is a very emotional rollercoaster of a miniseries. HBO did a wonderful job and I wish to see more great documentarylike shows that can bring history to life.

    Jesse
    BasementBeatz

  14. The Altamirano Family
    8 Apr 2012 at 3:29 am

    God Bless Lena and John Basilone… our heroes.

  15. Rick Borenstein
    8 Apr 2012 at 10:41 am

    To The Altamirano Family: Lena Basilone was a Marine who was in a league of her own.She along with another Medal Of Honor winners husband Terry Murphy the wife of Audie Murphy helped alot of veterans get what they needed from the Veterans Administration.To me the Basilones were both legendary heroes.My father and I were combat medics. I served from Dec 73 to Jun 2007 in the Army and Air Force. My father served in the Pacific and took part in the Central Pacific and Palau campaign(Peleliu). He along with many Marines fought like tigercats on that island.Eugene Sledge,Robert Leckie,and RV Burgin were heroes of that island .I too took part during the Vietnam era in combat in Korea(limited basis),Desert Storm,Bosnia(peacekeeper)and Iraq.The war of my father and the Marines was a much more intense combat.Those men rose to the occassion espeically John Basilone at Guadalcanal. Others fought at Peleliu and Okinawa.These soldiers endured a war likes of which I hope is not repeated, but I am pessimistic with this assessment in todays world right now..HBO actually brought this very unpublicized area of WW II alive. As a combat veteran myself it was extremely realistic and told what it was like. Peleliu,Iwo Jima,Guadalcanal,New Britian,and Okinawa were among the toughest campaigns in tough conditions to fight.We had tough during VietNam with equal intensity.I marvel at these heroes, who adapted and overcame very tenacious and determined to die foes.This miniseries told it like it was. People can see the war in the Pacific through the eyes of the Marines clearly.This is something can’t be avoided or entered into withtout thought as to what can happen Respectfully.SSG Rick”Doc”Borenstein(Retired) combat Medic

    • Megan
      11 Feb 2014 at 9:12 pm

      Correction here: No such thing as a MOH winner. They are Medal of Honor RECIPIENTS. If you call any of them a winner you are disgracing the recipients and those who died earning it. Its not a contest to receive one. In fact if you talk to many who are still alive they will tell you they do not enjoy having that reminder but they respect the award and that is that.

      Semper Fi

  16. rick borenstein
    8 Apr 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Jesse:Do not ever feel disappointed that you could not serve.We volunteered as did the Basilones. They were legendary icons and did their duties beyond what was required of them. John Basilone was not only a good machine gun platoon sergeant, He knew how to use machine guns,maintain them and teach others to do the same, like Steve Evenson who fell on Iwo Jima and his buddy
    Chuck Tatum who survived Iwo Jima. Lena Basilone ran an extremely well regarded mess hall and led her Marines. She was definitely an in charge Sergeant,but was well respected because she too could lead. These Marines were the pioneers who created an Army I passed my torch unto as well as Marine Corps we have today. Being on the home front is just as valuable.When I was deployed, the letters,the care packages,and support for us kept us going.You people of the homefront keep our morale up more than you know. We also appreciated the material contributions you made to the war effort.As medics, my father and I kept many people alive when injured but we also kept them up mentally and maintained their health. We did our jobs and what were asked to do. We were proud to do this.You make our sacrifices bearable. I thank you for you service and recognize what you did for us soldiers Respectfully,SSG.Richard”Doc”Borenstein(Retired) Combat Medic

  17. david McConnell-Palmer from Canada
    8 Aug 2012 at 2:43 pm

    God Bless her and may she rest in peace

    • SSg Rick"Doc"Borenstein,Retired US Army
      30 Aug 2012 at 7:22 pm

      Welcome David: My name is SSG Rick”Doc” Borenstein I served in the US Army from 1973-2007 and retired. My father,Dr Milt Borenstein was a combat medic in the Pacific Attached to the USMC under General Roy Geiger of Guadalcanal fame.When Lena met John she was in charge of a mess hall at Camp Pendleton,California. John met Lena at Pendleton,it took a while because Lena was her own woman and a noncomissioned officer whe eventually attained the rank of Master Sergeant, She did not rush to John immediately as you saw in the “Pacific” but once she did they were head over heels for each other.John was a no nonsense Gunnery Sergeant and was very good with a machine gun and thats what got him the Congressional Medal of Honor(equivalent to a Victoria Cross). My father was on Peleiliu as a medic and thats what I think spooked him and he finished the war in Hawaii. My uncle Murray a medic did duty with the USMC and Army on Okinawa, My other uncle Dwight did a week on Iwo Jima before he was wounded twice and got oft the Island. I have had 5 combat deployments and was spooked after Bosnia,my unit had a psychiatrist I saw him off duty for a year and the military was none the wiser. , Lena was a hero to me and so was John. They were only married 7 months when John fell in battle within 2-4 hours of hitting the beach. John was a legend as was Lena.Beleive you me Lena is at peace. I ran into her at the Long beach veterans amdinisitration hospital and she helped through the bureaucratic maze and was with me the entire day,I have never forgottten her.
      Regards Doc I Was A combat medic like my father

    • SSG.Rick Borenstein (Ret)
      21 Dec 2013 at 12:23 am

      Thank You for thinking of Lena Basilone.She did a lot as was mentioned in my previous comments.She helped a lot of our veterans get access to services they needed. She was very selfless.and helped without expecting anything in return

  18. Barbara Garner
    10 May 2013 at 2:18 pm

    I just saw this site today for the first time. May 10, 2013!! Lena as a dear and precious friend of mine. I met her sometime in 1986 when she visited our church and we became instant friends. There are no words to describe this amazing lady. We spent many, many hours together and even though her “Johnny ” had been killed many years before she had a way of talking about him that made me feel I knew him personally. “Johnny” was definitely the love of her life! I write this with tears streaming as I think about the years of fun we shared together. She was as fun, compassionate and loving as she was tough. She always appeared and acted much younger than her actual age. The young people in our church adored her even though she was tough with them. As she moved into her 80s, health issues began to crop up. It was my joy and privilege to be able to stay with her often in her home, to drive her for outings, groceries, shopping, doctor appointments or out to lunch or supper. Whatever we were doing on a weekday, she insisted we be home in time for her daily ‘dose’ of Guiding Light !
    Her favorite framed picture of “Johnny” always sat looking at her from atop her TV! On one occasion I drove Lena to Camp Pendleton for a celebration of the Women’s Marine Corp. 60th anniversary, (I think it was 60) It was so great seeing how she was honored and revered by the young lady Marines. A very young, excited female Marine escorted her to the front of the room to cut the ceremonial cake! And she cut it with flair!
    Again it was my privilege to be with Lena during the sad days of her battles with congestive heart failure, the many calls for paramedics, the many trips to the ER. I always signed in as her”daughter”, to be able to have access to her and her doctors. I was there when at over 80 years of age the doctor decided to do heart bypass surgery. The saddest days of my life were seeing Lena’s normally fighting spirit wane after her surgery. I was with her as she drew her last labored breath in the ER after weeks of trying to recover from the surgery.
    Lena always had her wallet full of “Johnny’s” pictures. After her funeral I had copies of their wedding picture made and sent to those who attended and left their addresses (I sent other things also, but can’t remember exactly–now that I am 80!)
    I tried my hardest through the years to get Lena to consent to be buried in Arlington Natioal Cemetary with her “Johnny”. But she always contended it would be “too much trouble”. NOTHING would have been too much trouble for me, but I honored her wishes to have her buried in the National Cemetary in Riverside, Ca. At first they did not want to acknowledge Lena had the rank of Sgt. It seems her Upgrade to Sgt . Was never properly entered into her service records. After I sent any piece of information I could find acknowledging her as Sgt. Lena Basilone, plus every picture I could find of her in her uniform showing her Sgt. strips, they finally agreed to put Sgt.on her grave marker. Neither did they want to include she was the wife of Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone. They finally agreed to ‘wife of Sgt.John Basilone’.
    I hope in some small measure I brought honor to Lena. And I hope that in some small way I brought joy to her life, I know she enriched mine !

    • SSg Richard R.Borenstein retired
      13 May 2013 at 5:58 pm

      Barbara; Thank you for this insight in to Lena Basilone. As I have commented she was a LEGEND as was John. My mother was a lot like Lena. She married only one man my father Dr. Milton K Borenstein MD. My dad and I were medics, My dad fought alongside the Marines as an Army medic.He saw battle in the Marshall,Marianas islands and Peleliu.We looked like the infantry,because we carried rifles,and other weapons as we needed to protect our selves as well as patients. I served from 73-2007 Vietnam era to Iraq. I was treated a few times at the VA facility in Long Beach where Lena helped get a lol of us through the system at the hospital. She always did things that were bigger than herself. I knew of her by reputation as did other veterans. The hospital environment would have been a nightmare without her.Lena said”once you had the best.there was no need to be involved with the rest, as she was totally faithful to John for a life time, although her time with him was brief. I wish I had an opportunity to know her more closely. I know she would enrich my life. Lena was a very strong woman. She one of a kind,who we may never see the likes of again. I knew of only one other like her,Terry Murphy Audie Murphy’s wife.,he died in 1971. She helped veterans thru the hospital maze at LA VA.Both Audie Murphy and John Basilone were soldiers who we will never see their likes again.Toghetje both these women gave immeasurable service to veterans and made sure we got what we needed.Lena served her Marine corps with distiinction and a pride which established the standard of what Marines needed to aspire to be. Lena lives within a lot of us,sons of Pacific veterans and contemporary Marines and soldiers.Regards,SSG Rick ,”Doc” Borenstein

    • stella
      28 May 2013 at 8:30 am

      Hello Mrs. Barbara Garner, are an Italian lady and my name is Stella.
      I’ve met only recently the story of John Basilone and now, thanks to your words, even a little of the life of Lena. I am very moved and I thank all the American soldiers who fought the cruel war in the Pacific and here in our Europe. I pray for all of them.
      I warmly greet

      • Barbara Garner
        16 Jul 2013 at 2:39 pm

        Stella…. Thanks for the kind words. It was so my privilege to know Lena as my dear friend! My daddy was killed in Germany at the battle at the Remagen Bridge in 1945. A recent visit to the battle sites and the cemeteries in Europe was a moving experience and a grim reminder of sacrifices made for the freedom we enjoy!

    • Fiddle Vracola 1-212-505-0148
      30 Jul 2013 at 9:25 am

      Dear Barbara Garner,
      I have been trying to find you. We spoke once, I am Lena Riggi BAsilone’s niece, Lost your number in Computer world of storms. Please call me and send your number. I tried your church and they had nothing and various places and people in Ca,You were so important to Aunt Lena. Thank you!!!

      Richest Blessings,

      Fiddle Viracola

    • 11 Feb 2014 at 9:17 pm

      Hello Barbara,

      This weekend GySgt John Basilone’s niece will be staying with me here in DC for the Iwo Jima reunion and symposium as well as working on the official documentary of John Basilone and Lena Riggi.

      If possible I would like to speak with you about setting up an introduction so that his niece can speak with you. We are seeking those who knew both John and Lena for the documentary.

      We will be running around all weekend for various events with the Commandant of the Marine Corps and of course multiple Iwo Jima survivors.

      My email is meganehall24@gmail.com

      Thank you for your time & Semper Fi,
      Megan

    • Robin Cedrone
      9 Feb 2016 at 11:07 pm

      Beautiful story for a beautiful person.

    • Robin E Cedrone
      10 Feb 2016 at 8:12 pm

      Hi, your very lucky to have known Lena Basilone. I loved the movie Pacific and i felt horrible when he died so young after they were married. I just had a question, was she close to his family after he passed? i know in the movie she went to visit his parents. I was so happy for them both when they got married. She must have been a great marine. My hero as well as her husband.

      • SSg Rick" Doc" Borenstein Ret
        8 Mar 2016 at 10:52 pm

        Hi Robin: I second what you said. Lena was a pioneer Marine and very dedicated both to the Corps and to John. In later life she served at the VA ;and everyone she came into contact with. Barbara Garner was a genuine daughter and family member to her. Lena Basilone teachs me a lot even after she is gone from our presence. Her spirit still lives on.. I miss Lena even it was a brief time I knew her .Regards,SSG Rick “Doc” Borenstein Ret

    • 2 Apr 2016 at 12:35 am

      Hi Barbara, After seeing pacific and reading about John Basilone i have so much admiration for the both of them. I love reading everything about ww2 and the greatest generation. I wish i could have known her. You truley were a good friend to her. Thank God she had someone. It was so sad that they never got to spend their lives together. I think she was the most selfless person. She is my hero. Thank You Robin

      • Ssg Rick "Doc" Borenstein Ret
        17 Apr 2016 at 9:43 am

        Hi Robin and Barbara:I was recently out to my old home at Anaheim. Ca.. I appreciate Barbara Garners knowledge of Lena because I think she is a daughter to Lena. Women recently won an important victory, they now can be combat arms officers. This has been an exclusively a mans kingdom. I think it will improve the military’s ability to fight. I think women can be and in many cases are better tank and infantry officers, as I have had aunts and grandmothers who were commanders in Israel’s Palmach.and later the Army.we now will have women NCOs too in positions of leadership they have rightly deserved. Lena was the pioneer and was a very strong Non commissioned officer and ran a very good mess hall. Her group of women were heavily complimented and recognized by the marines they served for good chow. I have had female cousins who were excellent NCOs and officers.in the Israeli army.If it was not for Marines like Lena Basilone and John Basilone the marines would not be the organization they are today. It also is sad that Lena had a short time with John. She loved him very much. My mother married my father in 43 during the war and she constantly worried about him until he came. My mom had me and cousins who served over the years in the US and Israeli military. I caught heck from Mom for not writing. I deserved it. I didn’t write for periods up to 1 month. I was a busy medic and many days circumstances precluded writing.We do overlook the homefront but we have better communication, specifically emails now.and Skype.Lena and John would like these changes.I served as a medic to many of the combat arms so I hope my insights help. Regards,SSg Rick”Doc” Borenstein Ret

    • catherinetodd3
      14 Jun 2018 at 5:14 pm

      Thank you Barbara Garner for your detailed comments about the wonderful Lena, and how you tried to get her to agree to be buried near her husband. Such a self-effacing woman she must have been, all the while doing so much good for others! And your efforts have been repaid many times over I am sure, by those who now know more about her. Gracias, amiga!

  19. sabrinammessenger
    9 Jul 2013 at 2:22 pm

    I missed the mini-series “The Pacific” so I’m going to have to find a DVD. VERY fascinating story about both Gy Basilone and Sgt Lena. The only thing I really knew about Basilone was the road that cuts through Camp Pendleton. It’s great to learn more about the people behind the name. Sgt Lena sounds like a very strong and amazing woman. So these male Marines of today who want to diss on women in the Corps need to be quiet. If Gy Basilone, one of the greatest Marines who ever lived, had respect for a Woman Marine enough to marry one, then they need to show respect, too!

  20. Barbara Garner
    16 Jul 2013 at 2:15 pm

    sabrinammessenger…..WELL SAID!! Hope you were able to get the “Pacific” series. As in most documentary/films some of the scenes and portrails of Lena were not quite right. But only small details….for instance, at that time all lady marines that worked in the kitchen wore the men’s fatigues, but not the ones popular today. The legs were long, so they were rolled up….the waist was generally too big, so the y cinched up a belt around their waist. Shirt sleeves rolled up and of course the regulation short hair in hairnets!! They definitely did not wear cute little feminine skirted waitress type uniforms. To my knowledge, Lena never had long hair and I don’t think in those days it was allowed by the WMS. She did have beautiful soft natural slightly curly hair, and she kept it short.. They got the part absolutely right about Lena totally ignoring Johnny when they first met. She was definitely not impressed with his celebrity status. But he was very persistent !! I wish she could see, hear and read the admiration so many have for her. She deserves it all!

  21. Barbara Garner
    16 Jul 2013 at 2:31 pm

    “Doc”Borenstein…… Lena loved her volunteer work at the VA Hospital in Long Beach. She had much empathy for every veteran. She got so excited around Christmas when it was time to get gifts together to take to the wounded war heroes!! She was such a compassionate, no nonsense, spirited lady. She was a patriotic American to the core!! In our Baptist church whenever we sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”… she would stand up and get everyone marching behind her all around the auditorium!!! Lena was definitely one of a kind. You were lucky to get to know her, even a little!

  22. ssg.rick borensteinm, us army retired
    17 Jul 2013 at 5:05 pm

    Ms Barbara Garner: I am a retired Army medic. I served 33 1/2 years from the Vietnam Era to Iraq.. I served in 5 combat deployments. I am glad that someone was able to be with Lena. I am glad that someone stepped in to be family for her. I am at least a 3rd generation medic. To me as I have said before was a legend of her own in the Marine Corps. From what I have learned about her from you and others Lena was a very independent woman. She was every bit a Marine which I would follow anywhere. She had a very strong love for Gy.Sgt John Basilone even though their marriage was short,it was a very strong one. Thank You very much for being Lena’s family. As I have grown up and I served many others became my family when I lost my dad to cancer.They filled in as role models and kept on the right path. Lena was a pioneer and an example many Marines can follow

    • ssg richard r. borenstein ret
      28 Jul 2014 at 1:55 am

      I forgot to comment on you father. Like my dad, he was in the tough battles of Europe as my uncle Norris was. The bridge at Remagen , as known as the Luddendorf bridge named after the WW I general, Eric Ludenddorf, it was a railroad bridge. It was the only one standing as the 9th Division approached and crossed it. the Germans set the charges of explosives off but they failed. the bridge stood for 10 days and collapsed? Was your father on the bridge when that occurred? My I lost an uncle who flew a B24. He was shot down over the Isle de Olerun in southern france,on thwway to plaster German airfields 3 months before Normandy, he fell on 3-27-44. Their bomber was called” Cabin In the sky”. I guess they are upstairs with the Lord, living in the cabin. Thanks for taking care of Lena

  23. ssg.rick borensteinm, us army retired
    17 Jul 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Stella: My dad was a veteran of the Pacific. He spoke very little about it. My dad was in the Peleliu campaign as part of the US Armys 81st Division who finished the campaign at Angaur, a neighboring island. My father was a medic,like me. I think this battle”spooked” him. Which made him keep his accounts inside of him. I have learned about what my dad and other Marines did through other Marines and Soldiers.who served with him. My biggest campaigns was Korea in the 70s, Desert Storm,(2 tours) Bosnia, and Iraq. I saw how ugly war gets, but I was a medic who had to be there to minimize the suffering of both sides. I am no hero, and my dad felt he was not a hero either. The Pacific War was one of the most savage wars ever fought. I felt both sides descended in to a hell that was what unimaginable to the human mind. I am amazed that many men did come out psychologically scarred, having no treatment.but still got their live together to function and cope To me Lenas generation was a very strong one. My generation followed their example and I think its why I survived 5 conflicts with mild to moderate PTSD. I again support Lena’s generation and love what she did. I do not think man will ever exorcise the demons of war.I don’t feel that the future holds a lot encouraging movement for ridding us of war. I see us tangling with Muslim fundamentalists with our full military weight and soldiers like John and Lean were will help us win it. Lena was a legend as was John.Lena helped a lot of vets at the VA navigate the system and get what they needed. This is what I remember about Lena. Fortunately, I have known a lot of Lenas who I served with. I salute her

  24. ssg.rick borensteinm, us army retired
    18 Jul 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Ms. Garner: I saw the PACIFIC documentary. It had a few details that were not accurate and you were correct. Hair nets are an essential thing for mess hall personnel as I have been a Mess hall inspector as part of medic duties. Lena would have been one mess sergeant I would never worry about because she ran a very efficient mess hall and really cared about the food and other things mess halls served. She was also constantly on top of mess hall sanitation too, which hers was the best on Pendleton. I also wish to convey my condolences to you about your father. The Remagen bridge commanders I think forgot about safety, which at that time the bridge was needed to get men and equipment into Germany to sustain the offensive they started. Both Eisenhower and Patton wanted to keep on the heels of the Germans, which supposedely justified using the Remagen Bridge. I feel pontoon bridges which were being built during and after the first weakening of the main bridge should have mandated use of the pontoon bridges to save engineers lives. but those were the times and conditions because I think Americans wanted a quicker end to WWII. This is probably why it occurred. I was a medic to engineers when I was in the National Guards and Engineers are over overbearing about safety. I have studied the war in the Pacific. I got a lot of insights on it from my high school teachers who fought as Marines in the Pacific. MY dad was attached to Geigers Marines with the US Army because he did water purification,ran a medical lab in addition to his ground duties. I have my lense of combat by which I can see why the Pacific descended into the cauldron of hell that it was, both sides fought brutally with equal gusto. Japan initiated it and made the rules in my mind, The USMC adapted and fought accordingly. I am a child of the Vietnam era and I was shaped by those soldiers who fought in Vietnam and adapted to them. Its why I have the attitudes I do. I have stayed to true to taking care of the troops as a medic. Thank you for your insights. Highest Regards,SSG Rick” Doc” Borenstein

  25. sabrinammessenger
    29 Jul 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Thank you Barbara for your kind words. I finally got to see the Pacific…and I was just blown away! I especially loved the story about “Manila John” and Sgt Lena! Let’s just say I’ve become “officially” obsessed with the story. So I’ve been doing some research of my own. I found Lena in both the 1930 and 1940 census…and was very surprised and excited to learn that not only was she an Oregonian, she’s was basically for me a “local girl!” She was raised and lived and worked in places less than an hour’s drive from where I live now! However, in my research: I’ve discovered several factual errors in the miniseries re: the episodes showing the courtship of John and Lena. You know the the part when they’re having breakfast and where John says “it’s incredible about what can happen over a cup of coffee?” Yes, I’d say the operative word there is “incredible”… considering that Lena’s father and mother had both passed away by the time Lena had enlisted in 1943. So he couldn’t have possibly made the “best coffee she ever had.” Still, it’s a good part of the story consider that may very well have been the reaction of some parents upon discovering their daughter was joining the Marine Corps. It may seem an unusual choice for many women, but based on what I’m learning about Lena’s life so far…it was a perfectly natural choice for her! So now I’m just stoked and really want to learn more and perhaps write a book about her. Maybe a bio or maybe a ‘fictionalized’ with fact sort of book ala Alex Hailey’s “Roots”…but we shall see what we shall see. You may see an updated blog entry from me here in the coming day sharing what I’ve discovered 🙂

    • ssg.rick borensteinm, us army retired
      6 Aug 2013 at 10:58 am

      Thank You Sabrina: I am glad to learn about these facts. I have found that the movie industry gets some aspects of Lena’s actual life facts wrong. I rate the Pacific at about 95% correct. At that time women were not accepted in a mans world in the military at that time. One primary example was the Women’s Air Service Pilots, out of Abilene Texas. they have only received veterans status within the last 15-20 years. I still feel that Lena was a marine that was tough as nails. I have learned that Lena was a strong willed woman which made her what she was. I have been a combat veteran from the Vietnam era to Iraq. I have had my father, uncles, and even grandfathers who fought in WW II and have had find out what it was like because vets find it easier to talk to other vets. I found that the combatants descended into a savage war the like I hope we never see again. War was fought with the idea that you do what you must do to win. Whether Geneva convention rules exist or not, you use weapons or do what it take to win.. I sometimes wonder how my family members who fought on Peleliu,Okinawa, and Iwo Jima fought on an island cemetery,the constant artillery and mortar fire, and combat. You got tired both physically and mentally quickly. I am amazed that they kept their mental sanity, but did suffer from PTSD as I do. Some familys recognized that the problem existed after the war and helped them. WEnow are beginning to treat veterans with this problem. Lena helped many of us including me to get help from the VA.While I had briefly known her. she had a positive impact on my life.. Lena left a positive legendary mark upon us

  26. larry morello
    15 Aug 2013 at 9:38 pm

    I stop by Lena’s grave every holiday Me and my Wife Debbie put flowers and a flag on her grave. We do a ceremony every wednesday for Vets without Families WE look straight out on her grave Rest in Peace Lena Basilone

  27. SSG.Rick Borenstein (Ret)
    28 Oct 2013 at 12:11 am

    Larry, Thanks for doing what you are doing this. I have a flag and it has the names of family and friends named on it. Once in a while, I add a friends name to it. This is how I remember those who were vets like my dad and friends including my oldest sister. I guess we all have our way to remember those important to us. Regards, SSG, Rick R. “Doc” Borenstein.

  28. Marie Rowan
    4 Nov 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Wow! It the untold story’s you eventually get to hear that you never forget I’m so glad that this was shared

    • SSG.Rick Borenstein (Ret)
      27 Dec 2013 at 8:57 pm

      Marie: Lena was the pioneer for what the post WWII Marine corps would be today.Women are playing a vital role in what occurs in the modern USMC today. Women make the Marines the effective force they are today.Without Lena, this would not have occurred as easily

    • SSG.Rick Borenstein (Ret)
      11 Jan 2014 at 4:10 pm

      Your right Marie. Lena was also very prominent in veterans affairs. She helped many veterans at the VA Medical center where she lived. She helped get us through the system and see that our needs were met at the facility. Lena Basilone was a very independent and rugged individual, who epitomized what the USMC is all about. They are soldiers with a purpose, soldiers who are tough, and agree with marine message that they are the best, the toughest, and will take on and complete any mission handed them. I could not serve in the USMC which was one of my ambitions, family members were in units I wanted to join, I settled for the Army and do not regret any of my service of 33 1/2.yrs.My dad was in the Pacific with the Marines including the Guam and Peleliu campaigns. We were both combat medics and had extra duties our units needed including water purification and distribution. Lena had an important job, seeing that the mess hall efficiently functioned ,and providing good food to keep up morale.This is what Lena was all about.

  29. 6 Nov 2013 at 10:23 pm

    I found your blog by chance and thoroughly enjoyed this article about Lena. My husband was stationed in California in the 80’s; I even stayed with one of his relatives in Riverside while he checked in at MCRD San Diego. It wasn’t until The Pacific miniseries came out that we realized Lena lived in Riverside and had we known we could have contacted her. Women Marines are such an important part of the Marine Corps. Keep up the good work Women Marines Association!

    • SSG.Rick Borenstein (Ret)
      14 Nov 2013 at 12:57 am

      Hi Vera: I am pleased to read your post. I am a retired US Army medic that served for 33 1/2 years. I am pleased know of a member of John Basilone’s family. I had members of my family who served in the USMC and some were on Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. My dad served in the Pacific with the US Army who was in the Marshall Island, Marianas,and Peleliu. He served as a medic like I did and later became a doctor. What I have learned about John Basilone has been influential on how I did my job as an NCO.
      John taught me to lead my medics well and to take care of them as he did his Marines. To me John was a legend whose legacy will not be matched for a long time. Lena was the same kind of a Marine too. Vera, always treasure what John and Lena were, real icons and professionals. There are few like them. They were good examples which I followed. I am proud to speak to a member of John and Lenas family

  30. Megan
    11 Feb 2014 at 9:07 pm

    Hello All:
    If any of you served with or knew Lena please let me know. GySgt John Basilone’s niece will be staying with me here in DC for the next few days. She is in town for the Iwo Jima Reunion and Symposium and working on his documentary. She is interviewing Iwo Jima Marines and those who knew her Uncle.

    I would love to know if anyone knows of someone or is the person who knew Lena or even John or both while they served. Please let me know.

    My email is meganehall24@gmail.com.

    Thank you & Semper Fi Sisters,
    Megan

    • SSG Richard R. Borenstein
      22 May 2014 at 1:58 am

      Megan, I met Lena long after she served in the USMC. I needed urgent medical care at a VA medical center.Lena help cut much of the red tape get me in for care that very day.I have never forgotten what she did. My uncle, A surgeon eventually took care off me and it worked good. Lena never forgot us and took care of us. SSG Rick”Doc” Borenstein US Army (Ret)

  31. Lewis McCorvey
    21 Apr 2014 at 10:28 pm

    I never get tired of watching Pacific.My dad was in the Navy 22 yrs, served in the Pacific,in all the island hopping campaigns. Its a warm joy to read the postings here. The Basilones are a happy loving couple for the eternity.

    • SSG Richard R. Borenstein
      22 May 2014 at 1:50 am

      Thank you for your comments.My father and your father’s dedicated service in the Pacific will not be forgotten by me.The Basilone’s John and Lena were legends. I think my Fathers generation were legends. They fought the war professionally and with great courage and valor.Their service shall always honored and remembered. I served as a medic for most of Army career of 33 1/2 yrs and would not have missed it for the world.
      Take care, SSG Rick”Doc” Borenstein,US Army Medical Dept, (ret)

  32. SSg Rick "Doc" Borenstein(Retired)
    24 May 2014 at 2:53 am

    Ssg Rick “Doc” Borenstein (Ret) Combat Medic.As we come to remember our fallen comrades which includes Johe Basilone Jr. Vera.and Msg Lena Basilone, I take pride in theilives and their leadership as USMC NCOs. I will also remember Audie L. Murphys wife Terrry along with Lena who helped us wounded vets navigate through the VA system and get the help we needed. Their work will not be forgotten by all who were in contact with them. May g-d in wisdom help us fix the VA after the recent round of events. Few veterans around the world have a system like and we can make it better.
    I also remember my fallen comrades from high school, through Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm Iraq and Afghanistan. They served with me steadfastly for almost 34 years ,over 1/2 my lifetime. Let us remember who they were and the ultimate sacrifice made for us all. The price of freedom is not cheap. It has a cost, a soldiers life. and for the families they left behind.. This is what Memorial Day or Decoration Day is all about. I salute everybody and those of us who survived. G-d keep us always in palm of your hand and love us always. Amen.

  33. 31 Jan 2015 at 6:00 pm

    What a shame she is not buried with her husband…………….

    • ssg rick "doc" borenstein
      13 Feb 2015 at 6:34 pm

      I know one person who could answer this question better than me. Barbara Garner. Lena was a person who lived life with a low profile and she was laid to rest in Riverside countys VA cemetery. I would think she should be buried beside John Basilone., I think Arlington has different requirements from other cemeteries. The Lena I knew would rather be buried where she was because she didn’t seek the limelight and wanted to live a quiet life.

  34. 18 Nov 2015 at 8:58 pm

    To Ssg Rick” doc” Borenstein almost every comment by you has included you and your family participation in various wars. While you and your familys service is gratefuly appreciated, as a vietnam vet I have never ” talked or disscused” voluntarily my service time as much as you seem to be inclined to do. I can also say to you that those who do —- seem to need some sort of verification for their time “in country”. I am affiliated with many WWII and Viet Nam vets and we never talk about what happened over there as much as you have on this forum. All that being said THANK YOU for your service and I am truly happy and grateful that you returned home, MAY GOD BLESS YOU and your family.

    • 29 Dec 2015 at 9:24 pm

      Hi Paul: I was a young kid when Vietnam went down. My cousins, and two uncles fought there and I learned quickly what Vietnam was about. to me it was a tough and frustrating war in many ways. The were either Green Berets or medics, a supply clerk and even grunts. I caught the tail end of it when we had to get our ADA missiles out of there. I then years later caught the Gulf war, Korea, Bosnia and Iraq. My dad was in the Pacific on Guam, the Marshalls and Peleliu. I served for 34 years nearly and the others did service from 4-30 years.I definitely appreciate what family did in Vietnam. My uncles in WW II served both in Europe and the Pacific. My family is most Army AF Navy and yes Marines. I wanted t join the USMC in 1st MARDIV but my cousin and uncle were already there and I had to settle for the Army. Paul I want to learn about Nam because what my commanders in Basic, AIT, and even in units I later joined trained this old medic in Vietnam methods, tactics and how to stay alive, especially when the cry “medic” was heard, aka our fatal flaw. Gotta gp get em.,during a hail of gunfire.Later in other conflicts it was knowledge I definitely needed and used, as it save my life. It created gut feelings about enemy presence and it wasn’t wrong on many occasions.
      I lost some high school buddies that went to Nam as well some in later conflicts. I love my Vietnam compadres and family. I think you went through a tougher ringer than I did with exception for Iraq.(That’s my VietNam). God love the brothers from Nam and I never stop thinking about you guys. Regards”Doc” P.S. I did some time on “Dustoff” and later did almost 5 years total. That kept me young at heart

    • 29 Dec 2015 at 9:34 pm

      As a medic, who has PTSD I gotta get out or let it all hang out. I am finding this is a need especially this last Friday when a retired E7 took his daughters and himself in a homicide.-suicide. I worked every day of my EMS career to prevent this. I want to reduce veteran suicide statistic rate. 22 daily Regards, “Doc” That’s why I talk about so others are not misinformed by the media, or teachers

  35. 29 Dec 2015 at 9:27 pm

    Paul. I ran into Mrs. Basilone @ the VA when I need help navigating the system, She was there for me. There will not be another one like her and Terri Murphy Audie Murphy’s wife. The gave us a lot and we appreciated their help in return as they helped us vets adjust. Regards,Doc

    • SSg Rick" Doc" Borenstein Ret
      8 Mar 2016 at 11:06 pm

      Robin: I second a lot of Pauls comments. My father was in the Pacific with the 32nd and 81st. My father was a medic and water purification specialist. My dad fought in the Peleliu campaign. I think it is what spooked him from combat. He rarely talked about WW2 like a lot of other vets. I learned from others like uncles, friends and comrades. I have 8 combat campaigns from Vietnam era to Iraq.It was my frame of combat reference.. In my mind from what I have learned about Peleiu it was a blood affair on both sides. Only 34 Japanese survived it. The Marines and Army suffered over 10000 casualities.. I had it easy in comparison. I was a medic in Desert Storm, Korea,Bosnia, and Iraq. and we lost fewer soldiers because of better medical. care.If that helps you. I reluctantly want to fight wars but as a medic we are needed to ease the suffering and save lives

      • 26 Apr 2016 at 12:44 am

        Hi SGT Rick, i love everything about the greatest generation. My uncles are marine and Navy vets as well as my two brothers who are Marines. I am so proud to be from a military family. i am very proud of both my brothers as they got many commendations from their service. They both left with honorable discharges and they were both Sargent’s. Thank you for your service as well as everyone who serves. i am a proud American. I would have giving anything to have met MRS Lena Basilone. She is truely my hero as well as her husband. if anyone knows about a documentary about them please let me know? Thank You Robin

  36. Michael B. Parlor
    12 Apr 2017 at 3:09 am

    The Headstone indicated in the photograph, is not The Headstone at Her Grave. I have written about Her for years, and a photograph of the current Headstone can be found at.:

    http://www.facebook.com/groups/10868541353/

    Semper Fi,
    “Major Pain”

    • SSg Richard R "Doc" Borenstein
      23 May 2017 at 10:26 am

      Hi Mike or Major Pain. I knew Lena briefly because I had to have an urgent medical problem taken care of at the VA and she helped me cut much of the red tape. Fortunately, I had an uncle who was a surgeon on the civilian side who took care of the problem> I served as a medic in the US Army by default. The Marines had a Sullivans which I fell victim too, I wanted to be a Marine. I had family in 1st Mar Div ahead of and had to join the Army in 73. I served until 2007 and retired.I was both an aviation medic and ground medic. I kind of figured Lenas headsone would not be in the location it was supposed to be. That’s typical. or what its supposed to be. Lena was ahead of her time as were many women Marines. Women marines can be rifleman which it is only right and fair. We need everyone on the line. Lena served an important role though,giving the soldier good chow was a morale booster. It is something the infantry appreciates or as grunts.Barbara Garner knew her best.My father and a lot of my uncles served in the Pacific as pilots, medics ,and grunts, one was a coxswain on the LCVPs or Higgins boats.. I have had 7 combat campaigns to boot too Lena was not not much for publicity and kept a low profile. I do miss her to this day. Memorial day is coming upon us fast and its time to remember those we lost, and those who gave back much to veterans as did Lena. Regards Staff Sgt Rick”Doc” Borenstein US Army Medical Corps, Retired .

  37. Thomas C.
    30 Jun 2017 at 9:06 pm

    They will forever belong to a Band of Brothers and Sisters who willingly served this Country when she called. Having Served 21 years of Active Duty from 1970 to 1992. I am proud to call John and Lena. Brother & Sister. Regardless of Service Branch, we all, will forever belong to a Band of Brothers and Sisters that only we can understand.

  38. Bert toth
    26 Nov 2017 at 8:01 pm

    Great women

  39. Peter Pisani
    11 Dec 2017 at 4:58 am

    Thank you both for your service and sacrifice.

  40. Airborne
    11 Aug 2018 at 4:50 pm

    She was an incredible human being and an even better marine, but before posting an article make sure you watch the entire series there were 2 more episodes after your supposed conclusion. It doesnt go into as much depth as you have but it does give her closure in the series.

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