When driving north from San Diego on Interstate 5, you pass out of the typical overdeveloped southern California real estate into the vast open space that is the Marine Corps' Camp Pendleton. In addition to serving as a major Marine base, it protects a swath of coastal southern CA that would otherwise undoubtedly have been long since subdivided and overbuilt. It's a refreshing break between the northern reaches of San Diego County, right before you run into the unbroken stretch of concrete that binds Orange and Los Angeles Counties together.
The first road you come to as you're entering Orange County is Basilone Road. There are some fast food restaurants there, and if you're driving up it's often a handy place to stop for a snack and restroom break. What I never knew, until I watched the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg epic The Pacific on HBO, was the story of the man it was named for--John Basilone, a Marine who fought furiously on Guadalcanal against an overwhelming force, and who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his courage. Back in the States, he was sent on a promotional War Bond tour. But he was more comfortable on the front lines than in the spotlight, and he requested to be sent back to the war. When the Corps finally approved his request, he was stationed at Camp Pendleton for training. There he met a sergeant in the Marine Corps Women's Reserve, Lena Mae Riggi, and they married in nearby Oceanside. Basilone got his wish and returned to the battlefield. On Iwo Jima, he once again fought with incredible courage, and helped penetrate the Japanese defenses. He was killed there, and for his bravery he was awarded the Navy Cross.
Memorial Day has become largely about sales and barbecues and the permission to wear white--it's the unofficial first day of summer. But in the midst of it all, we should take at least a few moments to remember those who have given their lives, in large wars and small, in service to the country. They're not all well known, like John Basilone, but they all made incredible sacrifices, and they deserve our honor and respect.