Bust of war hero in Little Italy’s Piazza Basilone.

Bust of World War II hero John Basilone in Little Italy.
Bust of World War II hero John Basilone in Little Italy.

This handsome bust is the central feature of Piazza Basilone, a small urban space with tables, umbrellas and a fountain at the corner of India and Fir Street in Little Italy.

A plaque beneath the bust begins with the following words:

GUNNERY SERGEANT JOHN BASILONE

NOVEMBER 4, 1916 – FEBRUARY 19, 1945

SERGEANT JOHN BASILONE WAS ONE OF THE FIRST ENLISTED MARINES TO BE AWARDED THE CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR OF WORLD WAR II. HE WAS ALSO POSTHUMOUSLY AWARDED THE NATIONAL CROSS.

HE WAS BORN TO ITALIAN IMMIGRANTS, SALVATORE AND DORA BASILONE, IN BUFFALO, NEW YORK. HE AND HIS TEN BROTHERS AND SISTERS GREW UP IN RARITAN, NEW JERSEY. RESTLESS AND ADVENTUROUS BY NATURE, JOHN ENLISTED IN THE ARMY AT THE AGE EIGHTEEN AND WAS ASSIGNED TO GARRISON SERVICE IN THE PHILIPPINES.

AFTER HIS HONORABLE DISCHARGE FROM THE ARMY, BASILONE RETURNED TO RARITAN. AS THE STORM CLOUDS OF WAR GATHERED, JOHN BELIEVED HIS PLACE WAS WITH THE FIGHTING FORCES. IN JULY 1940 HE ENLISTED IN THE MARINE CORPS.

IT WAS ON GUADACANAL THAT SERGEANT BASILONE ACHIEVED HIS PLACE IN MARINE CORPS HISTORY, BECOMING ONE OF THE FIRST ENLISTED MARINES TO BE AWARDED THE MEDAL OF HONOR OF WORLD WAR II; THE NATION’S HIGHEST AWARD FOR EXTRAORDINARY HEROISM AND CONSPICUOUS GALLANTRY IN ACTION.

During the Battle of Guadalcanal, Basilone held off 3,000 Japanese troops after his unit was almost entirely destroyed. He was later killed in action on the first day of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Planet Earth globe fountain in Little Italy's Piazza Basilone.
Planet Earth globe fountain in Little Italy’s Piazza Basilone.

This unique fountain is just a few feet away.

Grounded warship signals Seasons Greetings.

USS Recruit with Seasons Greetings sign.
USS Recruit with Seasons Greetings sign.

How did this guided missile frigate end up sitting on the ground? Why does it have a tinsel sign that spells out Seasons Greetings? Did Santa drop it like an oversized toy from the sky?

This unusual sight is often glimpsed by San Diegans motoring along Harbor Drive between downtown and Point Loma. Built right there on the ground in 1949 to train Navy recruits, today this two-thirds model of a real warship is situated at the southwest end of the redeveloped NTC Liberty Station. The landlocked “non-ship” is officially named the USS Recruit and was originally modeled after a destroyer, and commissioned as a regular Navy ship!

Nicknamed by sailors the USS Neversail, she’s become something of a San Diego landmark. And every year around Christmas she wishes passersby a happy holiday!

UPDATE!

Here are a few pics taken during a walk in late September of 2014. The USS Recruit appears to be awaiting a new coat of paint!

Beautification in progress in late September 2014.
Beautification in progress in late September 2014.
Scaffolding along the side of the weathered old USS Recruit in Point Loma.
Scaffolding along the side of the weathered old USS Recruit in Point Loma.
A bicyclist passing the USS Recruit heads into Liberty Station.
A bicyclist passing the USS Recruit heads into Liberty Station.

I walked past the USS Recruit in early March, 2015. The ship has a new paint job! Of course, I had to take more photos…

This model of a destroyer escort helped instruct as many as 50,000 naval recruits annually in basic naval procedure. The Recruit was the Navy's only commissioned ship never to reach water.
This model of a destroyer escort helped instruct as many as 50,000 naval recruits annually in basic naval procedure. The Recruit was the Navy’s only commissioned ship never to reach water.
People walk past the newly painted USS Recruit near Liberty Station.
People walk past the newly painted USS Recruit at one end of Liberty Station.
Nicknamed the USS Neversail, this ship is an unusual sight that captures the attention of visitors to San Diego.
Nicknamed the USS Neversail, this ship is an unusual sight that captures the attention of visitors to San Diego.

Huge Liberty Station flag at half-mast.

Huge Liberty Station flag at half mast.
Huge Liberty Station flag at half-mast.

I took a nice long walk this chilly morning from Spanish Landing to the edge of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.  I followed dirt and paved walkways, staying mostly near the edge of the boat channel that runs between Point Loma’s Liberty Station and Lindbergh Field.

Here are pics of one sight that was very hard not to miss.  The gigantic flag at NTC Liberty Station was flying in the breeze at half-mast, most likely due to Nelson Mandela’s death today.

In the first photo you can see ladies getting a workout in the big grassy area, and some large guns that are monuments to the old Naval Training Center.

Today’s Liberty Station is a complex of stores, offices, museums, residential and park space.  It used to be Naval Training Center San Diego, which was closed in 1997 and eventually redeveloped using the historic old buildings.  The grassy expanse you see is Preble Field. It was the marching ground where Navy recruits assembled, marched and graduated from boot camp.

Flag at half mast at Ingram Plaza.
Flag at half mast beyond Ingram Plaza.

This plaque marks where Ingram Plaza used to be.  Ingram Plaza was the site of tent camps in the 1920s where incoming recruits were temporarily isolated to prevent outbreaks of contagious diseases.  Here they also got haircuts, new uniforms and physical training before joining the regular routines of the base.

The plaque reads:

THIS PLAZA IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF OSMOND K. INGRAM GUNNERS MATE FIRST CLASS UNITED STATES NAVY WHO SACRIFICED HIS LIFE IN AN EFFORT TO SAVE HIS SHIP AND SHIPMATES DURING AN ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN THE U.S.S. CASSIN AND A GERMAN SUBMARINE ON OCTOBER 15, 1917

“GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS THAT A MAN LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS'”

UPDATE!

Here are a few more photos I took on a later day:

Plaques at NTC Liberty Station remember the history of Naval Training Center San Diego.
Plaques at NTC Liberty Station remember the history of Naval Training Center San Diego.
Preble Field was a grinder or marching ground. However, it is most fondly remembered as the location of every boot camp graduation ceremony, where boys became men.
Preble Field was a grinder or marching ground. However, it is most fondly remembered as the location of every boot camp graduation ceremony, where boys became men.
Ingram Plaza was the site of the original tent camps in the 1920s. New recruits were isolated here for three weeks, and given haircuts, uniforms and physical training.
Ingram Plaza was the site of the original tent camps in the 1920s. New recruits were isolated here for three weeks, and given haircuts, uniforms and physical training.
An old anchor on display at Liberty Station. It sits across historic Preble Field from the American flag at full-mast.
An old Navy anchor on display at Liberty Station. It sits across historic Preble Field from the American flag now at full-mast.

To enjoy future posts, you can “like” Cool San Diego Sights on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter.

Plaque remembers Pearl Harbor victims.

plaque memorializes victims of pearl harbor

This plaque, embedded in a large old slab, is located on the Embarcadero. You’ll find it right next to the USS Midway Museum, at the north end of the Greatest Generation Walk. It remembers the victims of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

It reads:

IN MEMORY OF THE 2335 MEN WHO PERISHED IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTRY ON THE ISLAND OF OAHU.

It looks like the memorial was unveiled by a local chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association in 1984. I’m not sure where the plaque was located originally. I searched the internet briefly, but found nothing.

UPDATE!

I’ve learned that this plaque was originally located on the Broadway Pier, prior to its renovation a few years ago.  This post contains more info I received from the Port of San Diego.

Pedicab drivers wait near Pearl Harbor plaque.
Pedicab drivers wait near Pearl Harbor plaque.

Jet fighter on elevator of USS Midway Museum.

fighter jet on uss midway elevator

Usually the huge elevator on the south side of the USS Midway Museum contains a few tables and chairs. When I walked by and took the above photo, it featured an F-4 Phantom II jet fighter that flew during the Vietnam War!

The historic USS Midway, a modern aircraft carrier converted into a museum, has become one of the most popular attractions in San Diego. It’s docked on the old Navy Pier right next to downtown. Over a million people visit the Midway each year!

Over time the museum continues to add refurbished military aircraft exhibits. The flight deck is now crowded with them, and the hangar below is filling up. The old airplanes are fixed up and painted by volunteers at Naval Air Station North Island across San Diego Bay, then brought over to the Midway on a barge and lifted onto the flight deck with a big crane. I saw this happen once years ago and it was a very cool sight!

UPDATE!  I took the next photo on a sunny day the following summer…

This A-4 Skyhawk of the Black Knights attack squadron was once based on USS Oriskany.
This A-4 Skyhawk of the Black Knights attack squadron was once based on USS Oriskany.

ANOTHER UPDATE!  Here come two more pics that I took in late 2014.  It seems the A-4 Skyhawk is now a permanent feature on the elevator…

Small boat passes near USS Midway aircraft carrier on San Diego Bay.
Small boat passes near USS Midway aircraft carrier on San Diego Bay.
USS Ronald Reagan seen docked at Naval Air Station North Island across San Diego Bay.
USS Ronald Reagan seen docked at Naval Air Station North Island across San Diego Bay.

ANOTHER! Why not add another pic? This one was taken in early 2016…

Birds large and small in a photo taken from the edge of San Diego Bay.
Birds large and small in a photo taken from the edge of San Diego Bay.

Taffy 3 and Battle of Leyte Gulf Memorial.

admiral sprague bust remembers leyte gulf battle

This is the bust of Vice Admiral Clifton Sprague. He commanded Task Unit 77.4.3, also known as Taffy 3, during World War II. The 13 ships and over 7000 men of Taffy 3 fought courageously in the Pacific, repulsing a vastly superior force of Japanese battleships, cruisers and destroyers in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. It was the war’s final and greatest battle between the two opposing fleets.

Behind the bust, the monument features thirteen black polished granite panels. Each one contains historical information about the American naval ships that participated.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf Memorial is located in the middle of the Greatest Generation Walk, just south of the USS Midway. It’s not far from the huge, iconic Unconditional Surrender statue, which people often dub The Kiss. You can see it there in the first photo’s background!

Republic of the Philippines Presidential Unit Citation.
Republic of the Philippines Presidential Unit Citation.
Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague won many awards.
Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague won many awards.
Few can compare with the courage, coolness and tactical genius.
Few can compare with the courage, coolness and tactical genius.
Looking at the memorial with Navy Broadway Complex in background.
Looking at the memorial with Navy Broadway Complex in background.
Tourist poses near bust of Vice Admiral Clifton Sprague.
Tourist poses near bust of Vice Admiral Clifton Sprague.

Homecoming statue on Greatest Generation Walk.

homecoming statue on greatest generation walk

I love this statue. It’s located on the Embarcadero a little south of the USS Midway, just off a bike and pedestrian path, in an area called the Greatest Generation Walk. Other statues, plaques and memorials can be found in the vicinity, but this bronze sculpture expresses such genuine feeling and humanity, it’s hard to take one’s eyes from it.

It’s called Homecoming. It depicts a sailor newly returned from deployment, reunited with his wife and small child. It’s a scene often televised by local news stations. San Diego is home to several large Navy bases, and is the homeport of many naval ships.

The artist who created this is named Stanley Bleifeld. According to the Port of San Diego website, this sculpture is identical to the artist’s original work, which is featured at the entrance to the Naval Heritage Center next to the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.

View of touching public art from different direction.
View of touching public art from different direction.
Love and thankfulness depicted on face of a Navy wife.
Love and thankfulness depicted on face of a Navy wife.
Sailor's expression of love.
Sailor’s expression of love.
Child is happy that Dad is home from deployment.
Child is happy that Dad is home from deployment.
Woman photographs Homecoming sculpture.
Woman photographs Homecoming sculpture.