1.) What inspired you to write Sgt. Basilone's story?
Jim: I found the story in the form of a home published chapbook by Sgt. Basilone's sister while I was researching another story of the era. This family version was very badly written but I realized the essential story that it was trying to tell had the dimension of prescience or prophecy that elevated it into something special. I then approached the family and met Jerry.
Jerry: My step-mother, Phyllis Basilone Cutter, was John Basilone's older sister. As she was approaching her ninetieth birthday, she commented that there never was a book about her bother John. She asked if I would put together the only book-authorized by her- on John's life, so all future generations would always have his heroic story.
2.) Have either of you seen HBO's miniseries "The Pacific"? If so, what do you think of their portrayal of Sgt. Basilone?
Jim: I have met and had a meal with Jon Seda, his wife and Bill Lansford, a personal friend of Sgt. Basilone's and fellow Marine squad commander on Iwo Jima. Jon is doing an excellent job at portraying the mental and physical toughness but I feel the writing of the series misses the wacky humor and playfulness of Basilone that made him beloved among his men.
Jerry: I have seen each part so far, and they follow VERY closely to the book.
3.) What was the most difficult part about writing this book?
Jim: Finding and interviewing the surviving veterans who served with Sgt. Basilone and childhood friends who knew him well.
Jerry: Locating a professional writer that would write the story in the first person, & would be willing to work with me; not against me. Writers that I contacted would only write a standard bio-there way-with no input from the family.
4.) Why did you decide to write the book in the first person?
Jim: I wanted to tell the interior story of this particular heroic man, someone who consistently put the safety of others above his own. That is why I titled the book "...The Heroic Life of..." He wasn’t heroic in reaction to danger, he was heroic in a considered, thoughtful way. It was simply the most important aspect of his character and the story, and there was no other way, at least for me, to tell it. Particularly in the case of Sgt. Basilone, who clearly foresaw his own death, and knew his prescience was accurate from past experience. How could he insist on going to his own death in order to protect "his boys"? I had to know what this was all about. I believe it was his knowledge of and commitment to a higher purpose that did and does compel me to tell his story as a man who lived his life far beyond the call of duty, beyond even his instinct for survival.
Also, because I grew in the same part of the country, I had a feel for Basilone's mannerisms, speech and local influences. I could hear his voice clearly in my head, particularly after hearing his recorded interviews with Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
Jerry: I wanted a strong story about John's life, not only a book of facts & figures like most bios.
5.) Jerry, what was it like growing up as the nephew of Sgt. Basilone? Did you always know he was a legend, or is it something you learned as you grew older?
Jerry: As a very young boy during WWll, I knew nothing about him. as I grew older, my father & step-mother would often speak about him. they also wrote a very short book but it was only self published for family members.
6.) Do your family members feel as though John was destined to become a hero? Were they surprised by his courage and devotion, or was he always a person of remarkable character?
Jerry: When John dropped out of school, most family members felt he would not amount to anything. However, he was lost, and joined the Army hoping to forge ahead in whatever his future was to be.