This New Jersey town has a sister in Italy, thanks to WWII hero John Basilone
By OLIVIA RIZZO | NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J. | Published: August 17, 2019
EDISON, N.J. (Tribune News Service) — Raritan Borough is about 4,325 miles away from Italy but a common connection — a World War II hero named John Basilone — now ties the Somerset County town and a small Italian community even closer together.
Basilone’s portrait hangs in the center of the Raritan Borough’s council’s chambers. A statue of Basilone stands proudly near the edge of town and every year a parade is held in his honor.
But his family wanted to take his recognition one step further.
“A member from the Basilone family approached me earlier in the year and asked about making Colle Sannita our sister city and I brought it to the council and it went on from there,” said Mayor Charles McMullin.
John Basilone was raised in Raritan and served as a United States Marine Corps gunnery sergeant in World War II. He was awarded the Medal of Honor when he carried 90 pounds of weaponry to assist a disabled gun crew under attack by enemy fire in Guadalcanal.
Throughout the attack by Japanese troops, Basilone ran back and forth between gun pits to supply his fellow Marines with ammunition. At the end of the battle only Basilone and two other Marines were left alive. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism and died in February 1945 during the invasion of Iwo Jima.
Basilone’s parents were from Colle Sannita — a town in the Province of Benevento, about 50 miles from Naples — and there are still Basilone relatives living there today.
The mayor said he and the council members began a back and forth process with the local government in Colle Sannita with some help from translators and the two governments agreed to become sister cities on July 16.
A small group of Raritan residents visited Colle Sannita and were present for the renaming of a street in the town to “Via John Basilone.”
“To be there was very overwhelming,” said Kim Van Note, director of the John Basilone Foundation, and niece of the local hero. “Sitting at the municipal building [in Colle Sannita] with everyone and seeing how excited everyone was really special.”
The borough will be renaming one if its own streets on Sept. 22. There will be a parade and food truck festival all in Basilone’s honor.
“The people in Colle Sannita are very excited and I think the people of Raritan are just as excited,” Van Note said. “It’s just so nice to see the response from Raritian and Colle Sannita.”
The two towns will also be sending care packages to each other with pieces of their own town history. Raritian’s package will include a replica of the portrait of Basilone that hangs in town hall and a walking tour guide of Basilone’s life in Raritan translated into Italian.
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