By Jeff Bahr
Kearny UNICO is just one chapter of the many that comprise UNICO National – the largest Italian-American service organization in the United States. At their 2012 convention at Marco Island, Florida, however, Kearny’s input proved pivotal. That’s because the organization saw fit to nominate Lieutenant General George J. Flynn for the Basilone Award – a decoration that UNICO bestows upon the best of the best for their service to our country. It was an idea that bore great fruit.
The award is named for John “Manila John” Basilone, a U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant from New Jersey who fought and ultimately triumphed against incredible odds at the WWII battle at Guadalcanal.
As a leader, Basilone is credited with acting as a oneman militia by standing tough alongside his troops during the peak of a horrendously bloody battle – resupplying them with ammo and offering much-needed encouragement on that frightful night – before launching an individual surprise attack against his Japanese foes; an initiative that surprised and lessened their forces by some eight soldiers. At the end of the conflict, the U.S. Marines emerged triumphant and a new hero had been born.
Basilone voluntarily returned to fight again at Iwo Jima, but it was here that his luck finally ran out when he was cut down while leading a machine gun squad. For his uncommon efforts and demonstrated valor, Basilone was awarded the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. He was the only Marine to receive both decorations during World War II.
The idea to nominate Flynn for the award came from Kearny UNICO President Lou Pandolphi and his wife Celeste, according to the General. When pressed as to why they chose him above other candidates, Flynn modestly suggested that I put the question to them.
But that wasn’t necessary. Flynn’s accomplishments speak volumes on the man’s behalf. Consider:
Born in Jersey City and raised in Rutherford, Lieutenant General Flynn felt a strong urge to serve his country. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1975, the driven man obtained a Master of Arts degree in International Relations from Salve Regina College, a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College, and a Master of Science degree in National Security and Strategy from the National War College. Additionally, Flynn is a Distinguished Graduate of the College of Naval Command And Staff and the National War College.
Flynn’s command assignments read similarly long and proud. He was a Commanding Officer, HQ Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12th Marines from 1979-1980; Commanding Officer, P Battery, 5th Battalion, 10th Marines from 1984-1985; Commanding Officer 5th Battalion, 10th Marines (1992- 1993); Commanding Officer, Officer Candidates School (1999-2001); Commanding General, Training Command (2002-2004); Commanding General, Training and Education Command (2006-2007), and a Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command from 2008-2011. General Flynn is currently assigned to the Joint Staff in the Pentagon as the Director of Joint Force Development. A laundry list of staff assignments round out his resume.
A resident of Kearny, Flynn’s sister, Patricia Triano, works as a nurse at Kearny High School. She’s grown used to her brother’s outsized list of accomplishments on America’s behalf, but that doesn’t mean that she’s unaware of his impactful contributions. “That’s my brother and I am proud of him!” she says.
“I knew about the award for about three months,” said the General. “It was received at the UNICO National Convention on August 11. I accepted Kearny UNICO nominates Basilone winner the award on behalf of all the great men and women who volunteer to serve our nation in the military. It is a true honor to receive an award that remembers a true Marine hero from New Jersey… John Basilone.”
Flynn is hardly a stranger to such recognition.
For his service in a number of different tours, he has received the Defense Superior Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster (the third highest award bestowed upon members of the U.S. military); The Legion of Merit with three stars; the Bronze Star; the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Navy-Marine Corps Service Medal with one gold star.
Why has Flynn committed himself so fully to the rigors of a life spent in the military?
“I have remained in the service because I love being a Marine,” explains the General in direct fashion. “I serve with great men and women and I believe in giving back for all the liberties we have in this great country.”
With these words, Flynn carries on proudly as he always has – the living and breathing embodiment of “service above self.” As the newest Basilone Award winner, this is only right and proper. “Service above self” just so happens to be UNICO’s motto.