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Islander’s ‘Greatest’ spokesman died Oct. 28

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Ralph Bassett of Perico Island as a U.S. Marine during World War II. Bassett later served in the Korean War and was wounded twice. Islander Photo: Courtesy the Bassett family

World War II and Korean War veteran Ralph Bassett of Perico Island died early Oct. 28 at his home. His wife and family were with him and he died peacefully, according to his son, Scott Bassett of Bradenton.

Ralph Bassett was an annual speaker at The Islander’s Veterans Day ceremony that honors veterans of all the armed forces and those whose stories have appeared in the Greatest Generation and Forgotten Generation columns in the newspaper.

His infectious smile, laugh and quick wit made him a favorite speaker at the event, and many veterans said they came to hear about his life in the U.S. Marine Corps.

An Iowa native, Bassett joined the Marine Corps in 1944 when he turned 17, after convincing his parents to allow him to enlist.

Bassett said he couldn’t stand the thought of being left behind, while older buddies were fighting and dying in the Pacific.

His unit was scheduled to invade Japan in October 1945, and Bassett and his pals were told that 80 percent of the company — about 260 men — would either be killed or wounded the first day. The company was scheduled to be in the first wave of the invasion force of 800,000 allied troops.

The atomic bombs dropped on Japan that August ended the war, and Bassett returned to the states to complete his WWII service as a clerk at the Brooklyn Naval Yard.

After discharge, Bassett stayed in the Marine Corps Reserves and returned to Des Moines, Iowa, where he enrolled at Drake University.

When the Korean War broke out in late June 1950, Bassett’s reserve unit — Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Regiment of the 1st Marine Division — was one of the first called to active duty by President Harry Truman.

The 1st Marine Division landed at Pusan, Korea, on July 19, 1950, less than four weeks after the war began. Within a few weeks, Bassett, now a sergeant in charge of a squad, was wounded.

After recovering, he returned to the front lines and was eventually wounded again by an enemy grenade.

He spent three months in a hospital in Japan, and was sent to a Navy hospital in Virginia, where he was discharged in 1951. He then returned to Drake to complete his education.

Graduating in 1954, Bassett married a woman from Des Moines and got a job at WHS radio, the same station where Ronald Reagan worked in the 1930s.

Bassett moved to Detroit a few years later and went into the insurance industry, eventually becoming a pension fund administrator. Bassett formed his own company in the 1960s and sold that when he retired to Perico Island in 1987.

He first came to Anna Maria Island in 1985 and quickly decided “this was the place” for retirement. Several of his children and grandchildren eventually moved to the Island and Bradenton area.

Bassett was a member of the Kiwanis Club of Anna Maria Island and attended numerous veterans activities on the Island, highlighted by his annual appearance at The Islander veterans salute in November.

Semper Fi, good friend.

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