I am so appreciative of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg for their production of three WW II movies. First was “Saving Private Ryan,” followed by the phenomenal “Band of Brothers” and finally in 2010, “The Pacific." At the time The Pacific was the most expensive TV min-series ever made. It is ten episodes that follow a view of a small group of Marines as they battled Japan. The fighting included Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. The fighting was even more intense than in the previous Spielberg/Hanks WW II movies.
I have seen The Pacific three times and never tire of it. The music, the stories, and the not-glamorous depiction of the horrors of war – unforgettable.
One of the stories is that of John Basilone. Quoting from Wikipedia:
"John Basilone (November 4, 1916 – February 19, 1945) was a United States Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant who was killed in action during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for heroism above and beyond the call of duty during the Battle of Guadalcanal and the Navy Cross posthumously for extraordinary heroism during the Battle of Iwo Jima. He was the only enlisted Marine to receive both of these decorations in World War II.”
The Pacific includes the romantic love story between John Basilone and Lena Riggi. Lena was also a Marine sergeant who had one less stripe than John. Awesome Stories shares an excerpt from James Brady's book titled, Hero of the Pacific. It quotes Basilone's recollection of the first time he saw the woman he would marry:
"I saw her as I came down the serving line. She was dark - Italian or Spanish kind of dark. Black hair, dark eyes, and she walked around like she owned the place ... At first, it was just a look between us. There was nothing on it. No wink or smile like we knew something special between us. It was just her looking at me from a distance taking stock of me and me looking back at her. I nodded, and she might have nodded, or not, but she wasn't falling all over herself, to get to know me. I liked this girl. She was tough. And she was a sergeant, the rules against fraternizing [with enlisted female personnel] didn't apply." (Brady, Hero of the Pacific, pages 164-5.)
In The Pacific, Lena is finally falling in love with John as they share “their best cup of coffee” stories over, well, coffee. Here is the actual dialog - beginning with Lena. (John’s dialog is bolded).
“When I first got here the coffee was dreadful. How a Marine Mess can serve bad coffee is beyond me. Can't live without it.”
“Best coffee I had was on Guadalcanal. Morning after the battle.”
“I know the story.”
“Not this part. We stole some coffee from the doggies when they came ashore. Liberated some hooch officers too. Any way morning after the battle my guys cooked up the coffee over a fire of green coconut logs. Wasn't any part of me that didn’t hurt; burns on my hands ears still ringing from the shelling. When they handed me that cup of coffee never tasted anything so good. Not that I don't appreciate this.”
“What was the best cup of coffee you ever had?”
“My parents were real traditional. I was supposed to get married and give ‘em grandkids. So when I announced that I joined the Marines, there was a lot of yelling and crying, and finally my father just stop talking to me. Cut me out of the family. Years later I got my stripes I went to see my mom and brothers. I was sitting in this diner - my pop walked-in. Sat down beside me. Ordered two cups of coffee, he put the milk and one sugar in for me. That is the best I ever had.”
“Incredible what can happen over a cup of coffee.”
John and Lena were married for only seven months before he was killed. Lena lived to be 86 years old and buried wearing her wedding ring.
Here is a YouTube Video of the scene:
So, that is the story behind our “Incredible What Can Happen Over a Cup of Coffee ” tee. This tee comes in three styles: District Unisex Shirt, Canvas Men's Shirt and District Women's Shirt.
By Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the "All Hands" collection at the Naval Historical Center. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By US Marine Corps (1943) (US Marine Corps; Sgt. John Basilone) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons