New group wants to preserve heritage of John Basilone

Basilone Memorial Foundation also wants to come to aid of forgotten and neglected veterans

RARITAN BOROUGH – John Basilone, the only enlisted Marine to receive the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross in World II, was killed in combat on Iwo Jima 70 years ago in February.

And though he is remembered in his hometown by a statue at the west end of Somerset Street and an annual parade that draws thousands, there is a new nonprofit organization that wants to the keep alive the memory of the hero and to remind younger generations of the sacrifices made by all members of the armed forces in World War II and conflicts since then.

One of the primary missions of the Basilone Memorial Foundation, which gained its tax-exempt status earlier this year, is to help veterans who have been forgotten or neglected, said Don Tozzi, a former borough council president who is one of the organizers.

Basilone would not “appreciate” the way veterans are treated today, said Kim Van Note, another organizer of the foundation, who is Basilone’s niece (he was her mother’s brother.)

Growing up, Van Note said, she was amazed at how much Marines and other military people across the country revered her uncle, who earned the Medal of Honor for his bravery on Guadalcanal. Many had learned of his exploits in the Pacific in school, she said.

Van Note said she hopes the values and spirit exemplified by her uncle will be passed to younger generations.

As an example, she said, her son, Cory Fandel, has written and performed a song to honor his great uncle, “In My Life.”

The foundation, which has launched its website, http://www.basilonefoundation.com/, will hold a series of events this year that Tozzi and Van Note hope will raise not only funds, but raise consciousness of the sacrifices performed by members of the military.

The first event is the Manila Madness Sniper Race and Obstacle Challenge at Duke Island Park in Bridgewater on June 14. Basilone was known as “Manila John” because that was his nickname as a champion boxer while he was stationed in the Philippines before World War II.

Participants, aged 16 and older, can find out how tough they are by running an obstacle course with more than 50 snipers armed with “Super Soakers” hidden throughout the course. Marines and veterans will also direct participants through 10 obstacles, plus other challenges.

A month later, on July 11, the Manila Madness Thrown Down will be held at CrossFit Toy Box on Johnson Drive where both men and women will compete in a fitness and strength competition.

On Sept. 13, the foundation will hold a parachute drop at the TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, home of the Somerset Patriots.

At this event, a Marine paratrooper will jump out of a helicopter hovering over the outfield and release 1,000 toy GI Joes with parachutes at a bullseye target in center field. Participants will have a chance to sponsor the GI Joes, and those that land closest to the target will have a chance to win prizes.

The foundation will hold the annual Basilone 5K Walk/Run on Sept. 19, the day before the Basilone parade. The race will have a new course starting at the Nevius Street Bridge and will go through Duke Farms in Hillsborough before returning to the bridge.

Proceeds of the event will benefit the Raritan Basilone Parade Committee.

Tozzi and Van Note said they hope the foundation can bring fresh energy to the parade.

The funds raised by the foundation will be distributed to the Fisher House Foundation, a national organization which has created a network of “comfort homes,” where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while their loved ones are receiving medical treatment.

Since 1990, the Fisher House Foundation has served more than 220,000 families and provided more than 5.2 million days of lodging, saving them more than $200 million in lodging and transportation costs.

Another beneficiary of the Basilone Memorial Foundation is the Steeplechase Cancer Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset in Somerville.

Van Note emphasized that 100 percent of the proceeds of the foundation’s events will be distributed to charitable causes.

Staff Writer Mike Deak: 908-243-6607; mdeak@mycentraljersey.com