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Thousands attend annual parade honoring World War II hero John Basilone

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RARITAN BOROUGH (Somerset County)


John Basilone showed up to Raritan’s annual John Basilone Parade today.


That is, a record number of people saw John Seda — the actor who portrayed the World War II Congressional Medal of Honor winner in HBO’s miniseries "The Pacific" — attend the 29th edition of the parade honoring Raritan Borough’s favorite son.


"It was just an honor," said Seda, who grew up in Clifton. "I knew the connection that Basilone has with his family and friends from Raritan, New Jersey. I can only think that John, if he were here today, he’d be doing the same thing."


Despite overcast skies that began to drizzle as the parade came to a close, organizers said the estimated crowd of 10,000 spectators was an all-time high, thanks to the "The Pacific."


"That would be a record," said Herb Patullo, who has helped organize the parade since it was first held in 1981.


The miniseries, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, follows the lives of Gunnery Sgt. Basilone and two other U.S. Marines, Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge, from their first battles in the Pacific theater to their return home.


The 39-year-old actor said he felt an unusually strong connection to the role, and was happy to attend the parade again for a second year. The 10-part series aired in March.


"Being raised in New Jersey myself, I felt this pride, you know," said Seda, who signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans. "How do you go about portraying someone like John Basilone? It’s not made up. You know, someone could look at his story and think it was Hollywood-made. It’s not. It really happened. So, I just tried to find the humanity in who he was and tried to work it from there."


The image of Basilone looms large over the borough and its 6,300 residents. A larger-than-life-sized bronze statue of Basilone was erected in 1948, an idealized image of the curly-haired hero standing bare-chested, a crucifix and dog tags hanging from his neck, his machine-gun in his hands and his gaze fixed on a world free of tyranny. A ceremony accompanied by a Marine Corps band was held at the foot of the statue following the parade.


Mayor Jo-AnnLiptak, said it was her own third-grade class at Raritan’s John F. Kennedy Elementary School that first proposed a parade in1980, presenting the idea to then-Mayor Steven DelRocco after a visit to the statue.


"The farther away we get from his actual life and his death, the more important it is to remember the extraordinary heroism that he exhibited that day," said Liptak.


Seda stood on a reviewing stand at the corner of West Somerset and Daughtry streets as ROTC drill teams, marching bands, Marine Corps motorcycle clubs and other veterans groups filed past him.


"Humbling is the word I’ve used so much, and I just can’t use it enough," he said.


Basilone won the Medal of Honor for his heroism as a Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant during the Battle of Guadalcanal on Oct. 25 and 26, 1942. His heroic legacy was propelled to near mythic proportions when, after being deployed stateside to sell war bonds, the camera-shy Basilone insisted on going back into combat, only to be killed on the island of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945, at age 28.


Spectators included 92-year-old Ann Scarpone and her sister-in-law, Phyllis, 85, who grew up with Basilone and whose brother, Connie Scarpone, caddied with the hero-to-be at nearby Raritan Valley Country Club. They were among thousands of newborns to nonagenarians who lined West Somerset Street, waving flags and cheering the passing spectacle. Fire trucks and military vehicles, bagpipers, a vintage cannon that boomed every block or so, and even an aging Elvis impersonator, all marched in celebration of Gunnery Sergeant Basilone.


One of the younger marchers was LorinBrungard, 17, a senior on the Immaculata High School Color Guard in Somerville, who hopes to become a Marine Corps lawyer. Brungard, who lives in Bridgewater, was marching in her fourth Basilone parade.


"He’s, like, one of my biggest heroes," she said. "I watched the HBO series, "The Pacific," and I was just in tears."



Photo: Jason Drennan, 3, left, and his cousins Vincent Villalta, 5, and Dylan Villalta, 6, (who are brothers) right, look over Hogan, the riderless horse in the the annual parade honoring WWII Congressional Medal of Honor Winner John Basilone. Thomas White, right, of the Marine Corp Jersey Shore Marines handles Hogan


Source: http://www.nj.com/ne...tan_boroug.html

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