Alexander Bonnyman, Jr.

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Alexander Bonnyman, Jr.
Alex Bonnyman.jpg  A light blue neck ribbon with a gold star shaped medallion hanging from it. The ribbon is similar in shape to a bowtie with 13 white stars in the center of the ribbon.
Medal of Honor recipient Alexander Bonnyman, Jr.
Nickname(s) "Sandy"
Born (1910-05-02)May 2, 1910
Atlanta, Georgia
Died November 23, 1943(1943-11-23) (aged 33)
Betio, Tarawa
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1942–1943
Rank First Lieutenant
Unit 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division
Battles/wars

World War II

Awards Medal of Honor
Purple Heart

Alexander "Sandy" Bonnyman, Jr. (May 2, 1910 – November 22, 1943) was a United States Marine Corps officer who was killed in action at Betio, Tarawa during World War II. A combat engineer, he received the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three Bronze Stars and the World War II Victory Medal posthumously for his actions during the strategically important assault on a Japanese bombproof shelter during the Battle of Tarawa.

Early life and career[edit]

Born on May 2, 1910, in Atlanta, Georgia, Bonnyman's family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, when he was a baby.[1][2] His father was the president of Knoxville's Blue Diamond Coal Company.[2]

Bonnyman attended Princeton University where he studied engineering and played American football. Dropping out of college after his sophomore year, he signed up for the Army Air Corps and entered flight training in June 1932 but washed out three months later, reportedly "for buzzing too many control towers". He then worked in the coal industry before moving to New Mexico, where he started a copper mining business.[3]

Marine Corps service[edit]

At the outbreak of the war, Bonnyman was exempt from any military obligation due to his age and role in running a company producing strategically vital material for the war effort. Nevertheless, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as a private at Phoenix, Arizona. Bonnyman received his recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, California.

Bonnyman (4th from right) and his assault party storming Japanese stronghold

In October 1942, Bonnyman sailed for the South Pacific aboard the SS Matsonia. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Guadalcanal as part of a Marine pioneer unit (akin to a lightly equipped version of an Army combat engineer group). In February 1943, he received a battlefield commission to the rank of second lieutenant in recognition of what his superiors described as exceptional leadership skills.

Bonnyman's civilian background, temperament and skills would come to play an important role at Tarawa in November 1943, where he was assigned to a shore party handling beachhead logistics. When the assault troops were pinned down by heavy enemy artillery fire at the seaward end of the long Betio Pier, on his own initiative Bonnyman organized and led five men over the open pier to the beach. There he voluntarily obtained flame throwers and demolitions and directed the blowing up of several hostile installations.

On the second day of the struggle, Bonnyman, determined to breach the enemy's strong defensive line, led his demolitions teams in an assault on the entrance to a huge bombproof shelter which contained approximately 150 Japanese soldiers. The enemy position was about forty yards forward of the Marine lines. Bonnyman advanced his team to the mouth of the position and killed many of the defenders. His team was forced to withdraw to replenish its supply of ammunition and grenades. Bonnyman again pressed his attack and gained the top of the structure, thereby flushing more than one hundred of its occupants into the open where they were shot down. When the Japanese fought back, the lieutenant stood at the forward edge of the position and killed several attackers before he fell mortally wounded. Betio Island was declared secured on the same day.

For his actions during the battle, Bonnyman was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The medal was formally presented to his family by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal in 1947. His 12-year-old daughter, Frances, accepted the medal on behalf of the Bonnyman family.[2]

According to the Defense Missing Personnel Office, Bonnyman's remains were "non-recovered".[3][4] After the war, the Graves Registration Service recorded his body as having been buried at sea, however this report was later determined to be unfounded.[5] It is instead believed that he was buried in a mass grave somewhere on Betio. In 2010, a team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) began a recovery mission on Tarawa in hopes of locating the mass graves and identifying the remains of Bonnyman and other missing Americans.[2]

Awards and honors[edit]

The Pellissippi Parkway bridge over the Tennessee River on the Knox-Blount county line in Tennessee is designated the Lt. Alexander “Sandy” Bonnyman Memorial Bridge in his memory.[6]

A light blue ribbon with five white five pointed stars 
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Medal of Honor Purple Heart
Navy Presidential Unit Citation Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ 3 service stars World War II Victory Medal

Medal of Honor citation[edit]

The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to

FIRST LIEUTENANT ALEXANDER BONNYMAN, JR.
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS RESERVE

for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Executive Officer of the 2d Battalion Shore Party, 8th Marines, 2d Marine Division, during the assault against enemy Japanese-held Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, 20–22 November 1943. Acting on his own initiative when assault troops were pinned down at the far end of Betio Pier by the overwhelming fire of Japanese shore batteries, 1st Lt. Bonnyman repeatedly defied the blasting fury of the enemy bombardment to organize and lead the besieged men over the long, open pier to the beach and then, voluntarily obtaining flame throwers and demolitions, organized his pioneer shore party into assault demolitionists and directed the blowing of several hostile installations before the close of D-day. Determined to effect an opening in the enemy's strongly organized defense line the following day, he voluntarily crawled approximately 40 yards forward of our lines and placed demolitions in the entrance of a large Japanese emplacement as the initial move in his planned attack against the heavily garrisoned, bombproof installation which was stubbornly resisting despite the destruction early in the action of a large number of Japanese who had been inflicting heavy casualties on our forces and holding up our advance. Withdrawing only to replenish his ammunition, he led his men in a renewed assault, fearlessly exposing himself to the merciless slash of hostile fire as he stormed the formidable bastion, directed the placement of demolition charges in both entrances and seized the top of the bombproof position, flushing more than 100 of the enemy who were instantly cut down, and effecting the annihilation of approximately 150 troops inside the emplacement. Assailed by additional Japanese after he had gained his objective, he made a heroic stand on the edge of the structure, defending his strategic position with indomitable determination in the face of the desperate charge and killing 3 of the enemy before he fell, mortally wounded. By his dauntless fighting spirit, unrelenting aggressiveness and forceful leadership throughout 3 days of unremitting, violent battle, 1st Lt. Bonnyman had inspired his men to heroic effort, enabling them to beat off the counterattack and break the back of hostile resistance in that sector for an immediate gain of 400 yards with no further casualties to our forces in this zone. He gallantly gave his life for his country.[1]

/S/HARRY S. TRUMAN

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Medal of Honor recipients - World War II (A–F)". Medal of Honor citations. United States Army Center of Military History. May 11, 2010. Archived from the original on 31 August 2010. Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d Brown, Fred (September 5, 2010). "Hero's grandson searches for closure". Knoxville News Sentinel (Knoxville, Tennessee). Archived from the original on September 6, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Goldstein, Michael (May 13, 2009). "Issue in doubt". Princeton Alumni Weekly (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University). Archived from the original on September 6, 2010. 
  4. ^ DPMO MIA listing
  5. ^ DPMO Listed of those buried at sea
  6. ^ "A hero’s body, lost and found at sea, The Daily Princetonian, December 9, 2008". Retrieved October 5, 2010.