ALEXANDER BONNYMAN, JR., USMCR
First Lieutenant Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., of Knoxville, Tennessee, who gallantly gave his life in the battle for Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands, on 22 November 1943, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, for heroism.
The Medal of Honor was presented to his teen-aged daughter by Secretary of the Navy James F. Forrestal during ceremonies at the Navy Department, Washington, D.C., 22 January 1947.
Alexander "Sandy" Bonnyman, Jr., was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on 2 May 1910, but when he was two years old, his family moved to Knoxville. His father was president of the Blue Diamond Coal Company of Knoxville.
As a youth, he attended Mrs. J.A. Thackston's School in Knoxville and graduated from Newman School in Lakewood, New Jersey, before entering Princeton University. He was a "first-stringer" on Princeton's football team until he left school in 1930.
He enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a Flying Cadet on 28 June 1932 and was sent to the Preflight School at Randolph Field, Texas. He was honorably discharged 19 September 1932.
Following his discharge he went to work with his father, whose firm was one of the largest coal mining companies in the United States. In 1938, he acquired his own copper mine in the mountains about 60 miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
When he decided to join the Marines in July 1942, he enlisted as a private in Phoenix, Arizona. Subsequently he received his recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California, and in October of that year, Pvt Bonnyman sailed for the South Pacific aboard the USS Matsonia with the 6th Marines, 2d Marine Division.
Combat in the final stages of the Guadalcanal campaign followed for the 6th Marines and he had his first encounter with the Japanese. In February 1943 Cpl Bonnyman received a field promotion to the rank of second lieutenant. He was promoted to first lieutenant on 1 September 1943.
Landing on Tarawa on D-Day, 20 November 1943, 1stLt Bonnyman, was Executive Officer of the 2d Battalion, 8th Marines' Shore Party. When the assault troops were pinned down by heavy enemy artillery fire at the seaward end of the long Betio Pier, 1stLt Bonnyman on his own initiative, organized and led the men over the open pier to the beach.
There he voluntarily obtained flame throwers and demolitions, organized his pioneer shore party into assault demolitionists, and directed the destruction of several hostile installations before the close of D-Day.
On the second day of the epic struggle for that strategically important piece of coral, 1stLt Bonnyman, determined to effect an opening in the enemy's strongly defended defense line, led his demolitions teams in an assault on the entrance of a huge bombproof shelter which contained approximately 150 Japanese soldiers.
This strong point was inflicting heavy casualties upon the Marines and was holding up their advance. The enemy position was about forty yards forward of the Marine lines. 1stLt Bonnyman advanced his team to the mouth of the position killing many of the defenders before they were forced to withdraw to replenish their supply of ammunition and grenades.
On the third and final day of the Tarawa battle, he renewed his attack upon the enemy position, leading his men in the placing of flame throwers and demolitions in both mouths of the cave.
Realizing that the seizure of this formidable bastion was imperative to make the Marine attack successful, 1stLt Bonnyman pressed his attack and gained the top of the structure flushing more than one hundred of its occupants into the open where they were shot down.
Assailed by additional Japanese, he stood at the forward edge of the position and killed three of the attackers before he fell mortally wounded. His men beat off the counterattack and broke the back of the resistance. The island was declared secured on the day of 1stLt Bonnyman's death.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, 1stLt Bonnyman was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three bronze stars, and the World War II Victory Medal.
World War II 1941-1945 Medal of Honor