Lena Mae Riggi was born on March 7, 1913 in Portland, Oregon. Her parents were Italian immigrants. When she reached adulthood she left Oregon to attend business school. During World War II she enlisted in the Marine Corps. She was stationed at Camp Pendleton where she served as a field cook on the base attaining the rank of Sergeant.
During her time there she met John Basilone, a Marine and the first United States decorated World War II hero. They were married on July 7, 1944 and spent some time together before John returned to the South Pacific. He was killed on February 19, 1945 in an exchange of heavy gunfire on Iwo Jima. Lena was notified of his death on March 7, 1945 -- her 32nd birthday. In 21 Dec 1945 Lena christened a Navy destroyer ship named the USS Basilone in her husband's honor.
Lena never remarried. She purchased a home in Lakewood, California and lived there for over 50 years until her death. She worked for the electric company and volunteered countless hours of her time at the Women's Marine Association, the American Veteran's Auxiliary, and the Long Beach Veteran's Hospital. Just three days after Lena's death a resolution was passed naming a 17 mile stretch of the San Diego (I-5) Freeway near Camp Pendleton 'Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone Memorial Highway'.
Although the Veterans Administration offered to bury Lena in Arlington Cemetery near her husband, she refused the offer saying she "didn't want to cause trouble for anyone". She was laid to rest in the National Cemetery at Riverside, California.
John Francis Basilone
1916–1945 (m. 1944)