John “Bo” Basilica grew up in New London, Connecticut, the oldest of three boys in the family. His mother raised the children while his father worked for Pfizer and served as an NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) in the Connecticut National Guard. Bo grew up playing a variety of sports, frequently coached by his father, who was also a scout leader. Having no plan to pay for college, Bo’s father recommended West Point and helped his son complete the application process. His most vivid memory of R-Day in the summer of 1974 is making it through the first day and taking the oath on Trophy Point that afternoon. He recalls not having good study habits, but with help from his classmates he was able to survive. As an upperclassman, he wanted to be responsible for teaching the Plebes and volunteered to be a Beast Squad Leader. He played Sprint Football (150 lb. Football in those days) for legendary Coach Eric Tipton, calling it the “most fun you can have on two feet.” Upon graduation, he commissioned into the Infantry and was assigned to 9th Infantry Division, becoming a Company Commander as a Lieutenant in C Company, 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry. His unit was among the first cohort units in the Army. After attending the Engineer Advanced Course, where he earned a master’s degree in civil engineering, he was assigned to the 21st Support Command. During this assignment, he was involuntarily reassigned to Engineer Branch, resulting in his resignation from the Army when his branch manager sought to pigeon-hole him into DEH (Directorate of Engineering and Housing) assignments. Still desiring to serve, he joined the Connecticut Army National Guard and was assigned to the 242nd Engineer Battalion, learning to balance a civilian job with his military duties. He then took a job in Chicago as a DA Civilian working for the Great Lakes Corps of Engineers while serving in the 412th Engineer Command, a theater-level support unit. At that point, his boss took a state-level secretary job and brought Bo along as his Chief of Staff. In Louisiana, Bo took command of the 769th Engineer Battalion, followed by commands in the 3rd Battalion 156th Infantry, 225th Engineer Group, and the 256th Infantry Brigade, which he took to combat in Iraq (OIF III). While serving in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast, devastating the homes of many of his Soldiers. When the brigade returned from Iraq, Bo took command of JTF Pelican, commanding National Guard Soldiers from around the country who deployed to Louisiana to assist in the clean-up. Following this, he served as the Special Assistant to the Adjutant General of Louisiana, was assigned to the National Guard Bureau, and Commanded JTF 51, Army North’s contingency command for homeland defense.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his West Point experiences, and his service in the Army, the Army Reserve, and the National Guard. He discusses the honor incident with the Class of ‘77 and the findings that came out of the Borman Commission. Eventually, 90 members of ’77 joined the Class of ’78. He remembers when the first women arrived at the Academy in the summer of 1976 (Class of ’80). He shares leadership lessons he learned throughout his service, highlighting the opportunities he received because he chose to continue to serve after leaving the active duty force. Throughout the interview he refers to his wife. The two were high school sweethearts who have been married for 45 years and raised a son and daughter. Finally, he reflects on his service and what West Point means to him.