Thursday, November 21, 2013

TFH 11/20-21: First Lieutenant William D. Hawkins, USMCR

William Deane Hawkins was born in Fort Scott, Kansas on April 19, 1914. His family moved to El Paso, Texas during his childhood. His father passed away when he was eight years old, and he was raised solely by his mother, who did not remarry. He graduated from high school at 16 years old and attended the Texas College of Mines, today known as the University of Texas at El Paso.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawkins decided to leave his civilian life and volunteer for military service. Both the United States Army and United States Navy rejected him for service due to scars he suffered from a burn injury as an infant. The United States Marine Corps Reserve took him. After recruit training and follow-on school to become a scout sniper, Hawkins joined the active Marine Corps with the 2nd Battalion 2nd Marine Regiment, part of the 2nd Marine Division.

Hawkins, with his unit, saw combat on Guadalcanal in late 1942. During that campaign, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on November 17, 1942. He was promoted to First Lieutenant on June 1, 1943. After a period of rest and recuperation on New Zealand, the 2nd Marines formed the main assault force for Operation GALVANIC, the attack on Tarawa Atoll.

The attack was launched on November 20, 1943.

The 2nd Marines stormed ashore on the atoll's Betio Island. Hawkins, leading the scout sniper platoon, was wounded in the early moments of the assault, but refused care or evacuation. He valiantly led his Marines in repeated attacks on Japanese strong points and fortifications, inspiring them to local victory over victory. He continued to ignore the injuries he suffered from enemy action until, after leading the attack on and destroying three additional Japanese positions during the second day of the assault, November 21, Hawkins was mortally wounded by an enemy shell blast and gave the cause of freedom his life.

Hawkins' mother was presented his Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House in September, 1944.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (G-L):


Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps

Citation: For valorous and gallant conduct above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of a Scout Sniper Platoon attached to the Assault Regiment in action against Japanese-held Tarawa in the Gilbert Island, 20 and 21 November 1943. The first to disembark from the jeep lighter, 1st Lt. Hawkins unhesitatingly moved forward under heavy enemy fire at the end of the Betio Pier, neutralizing emplacements in coverage of troops assaulting the main beach positions. Fearlessly leading his men on to join the forces fighting desperately to gain a beachhead, he repeatedly risked his life throughout the day and night to direct and lead attacks on pillboxes and installations with grenades and demolitions. At dawn on the following day, 1st Lt. Hawkins resumed the dangerous mission of clearing the limited beachhead of Japanese resistance, personally initiating an assault on a hostile position fortified by 5 enemy machineguns, and, crawling forward in the face of withering fire, boldly fired point blank into the loopholes and completed the destruction with grenades. Refusing to withdraw after being seriously wounded in the chest during this skirmish, 1st Lt. Hawkins steadfastly carried the fight to the enemy, destroying 3 more pillboxes before he was caught in a burst of Japanese shellfire and mortally wounded. His relentless fighting spirit in the face of formidable opposition and his exceptionally daring tactics served as an inspiration to his comrades during the most crucial phase of the battle and reflect the highest credit upon the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

The USS Hawkins (DD-873), a Gearing-class destroyer, was commissioned by the Navy in the fallen lieutenant's honor on February 10, 1945 but didn't reach a combat zone before war's end. The vessel served with our fleet until decommissioning in the late 1970s. The ship found a new life afterwards with the Republic of China Navy, but has since been scrapped.

William Deane Hawkins today rests in peace at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

2nd Battalion 2nd Marines, the "Warlords", continue their defense of liberty today from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina as part of the 2nd Marine Division and the II Marine Expeditionary Force.

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