WILLIAM JAMES BORDELON, USMC
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Medal of Honor Citation
Staff Sergeant William James Bordelon of San Antonio, Texas, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously "For valorous and gallant conduct above and beyond the call of duty as a member of an Assault Engineer Platoon of the 1st Battalion, 18th Marines, tactically attached to the 2d Marines, 2d Marine Division, in action against the Japanese-held Atoll of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands on 20 November 1943."
William James Bordelon was born on Christmas Day, 25 December 1920 in San Antonio, Texas. He attended the local schools and graduated from Central Catholic High School where he had become a cadet officer in the Reserve Officers Training Corps.
On 10 December 1941, he enlisted in the Marine Corps for a period of four years. Pvt Bordelon was sent to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California. In recruit training he fired a score of 214 with the service rifle (Springfield) to become a Marine "marksman."
Completing his training with the 5th Recruit Battalion, he was transferred to Casual Company for a brief period and then to Company D, 2d Engineer Battalion, 2d Marine Division, then stationed in San Diego.
Promotions in the engineers came rapidly for him. Advanced to private first class 5 February 1942, he was promoted to corporal less than six weeks later, on 14 March. His appointment to sergeant took effect on 10 July of the same year.
Transferred to Company C, 18th Marines in September, Sgt Bordelon moved over to Company L, 3d Battalion, 6th Marines the next month, and was back with Company C in November.
It was 20 October 1942 his company embarked at San Diego and sailed into the Pacific. Arriving in Wellington, New Zealand, on 9 November the 2d Division remained there for about six weeks before "shoving off" again.
On 24 December 1942 he embarked on board the USS President Hayes, which took him to Guadalcanal. Sgt Bordelon's organization was on that enemy-infested island from 4 January to 19 February 1943, and then returned to New Zealand via the USS President Adams.
The next few months were spent in reorganizing, recreation, and preparation of the next campaign. He was promoted to staff sergeant on 13 May 1943. He was transferred to Company A, 1st Battalion 18th Marines on 10 October and one week later, again went aboard ship.
This time it was the USS Zeilin and she didn't leave Wellington until 1 November. Making one stop at Efate, New Hebrides, on the 7th and sailing again on the 18th, the Zeilin arrived off grim, enemy-held Tarawa on D-Day, 20 November 1943.
During the subsequent landing, SSgt Bordelon was one of four men from his tractor to reach the beach alive. SSgt Bordelon and a buddy, Sgt Elden Beers, went over the tractor's side together and were immediately caught in the barded wire entanglement. Extricating themselves under heavy fire, the two Marines and two others from their craft managed to hit the beach and secure a little protection behind a four-foot-high seawall.
In reaching the beach, the Marines lost all their equipment except a few small arms and two packages of dynamite. Quickly forming the dynamite into demolition charges, SSgt Bordelon personally put two pillboxes out of action. Assaulting a third enemy position, he was hit by enemy machine gun fire just as one of his charges left his hand.The backlash from the charge also wounded SSgt Bordelon and he had to be bandaged by two of his companions.
The small band behind the seawall was still pinned to the sand by fire, which was coming from a machine gun nest 200 yards up the beach. Gathering up the last two demolition charges, SSgt Bordelon started to crawl toward the enemy gun pit. He succeeded in destroying the position but in doing so was again shot through the left arm. He returned and asked his men to apply a tourniquet.
Taking a rifle, SSgt Bordelon provided fire coverage for a group attempting to scale the wall. In the meantime, his companions had decided to try to rescue a group of wounded Marines who were floundering around in the water offshore. On their first move another enemy machine gun pinned them down.
Staff Sergeant Bordelon, seeing his companion wounded, started off in search of a corpsman, but was unable to locate one. Instead he stumbled on a rifle grenade and immediately returned to take action against enemy machine gunners who were holding up the rescue of the wounded.
As he started his next single-handed attack, his attention was caught by a badly wounded Marine whom the surf had thrown upon the beach. Immediately going to the aid of the Marine, he was caught in the shoulder by a burst of enemy fire.
Although he was suffering from multiple wounds, he lunged toward the enemy gun and employing the rifle grenade, destroyed the nest before he fell dead from a final burst of enemy fire.
The Marine hero was originally buried in Lone Palm Cemetery on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll. He later was moved and laid to rest in Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio, Texas.
The Medal of Honor, posthumously awarded to SSgt Bordelon by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was presented to his mother at a large, impressive ceremony at Alamo Stadium in San Antonio on 17 June 1944. That week was designated "Statewide Bordelon Week" throughout Texas by the state's governor. The 17th was "Bordelon Memorial Day" in San Antonio by mayoral proclamation. Maj Donald M. Taft, Officer in Charge of the San Antonio Marine Recruiting office presented the first Medal of Honor to be awarded a Texan during World War II, to the late Marine's mother.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, SSgt Bordelon also was awarded (posthumously) the Purple Heart; Presidential Unit Citation; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.