Friday, November 22, 2013

TFH 11/20-22 Part 1: First Lieutenant Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., USMCR

Alexander "Sandy" Bonnyman, Jr. was born on May 2, 1910 in Atlanta, Georgia. He grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee where his father was an executive with a coal company. He attended Princeton University for two years, but dropped after his sophomore year in 1920. He later enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in June 1932, but did not complete his training as a pilot and was honorably discharged three months later.

He then spent the next several years working in mining, both coal and founding his own copper mining enterprise in New Mexico. When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Bonnyman, at age 31 and married with a family, was exempt from compulsory military service, but he nonetheless volunteered and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve.

After training, he deployed for combat with the active Marine Corps' 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment and part of the 2nd Marine Division. They fought ashore the final phases of the Guadalcanal Campaign, and during that time Bonnyman received a battlefield commission as a Second Lieutenant, and was later promoted to First Lieutenant.

On November 20, 1943, Bonnyman was the executive officer of 2/8 Marines' shore party, responsible for coordinating the flow of men and materiel ashore - an important role indeed, because that was the day the Marines stormed ashore on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll.

In the opening hours of Operation GALVANIC, Lieutenant Bonnyman used his own personal initiative to lead men ashore from their landing points to points inland where they could attack the Japanese. For three days, he repeatedly led attacks against enemy fortifications, helped gather reinforcements and munitions, and by his example was a continuous inspiration to his fellow Marines.

On the third day of the attack, November 22, he led his Marines in an attack against a massive Japanese bunker, destroying the position and killing 250 of the enemy. The attack cost him his life, but for his three days of leadership and valor above and beyond the normal call of duty, he was posthumously decorated with our Nation's highest honor.

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


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

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.

Lieutenant Bonnyman's Medal was presented to his family by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal in January 1947. His then 12-year old daughter Frances accepted it on behalf of her hero father.

Presentation of the Medal of Honor to Frances Bonnyman
Bonnyman's remains have never been recovered. Cenotaphs in his memory have been erected in Hawai'i, the Highland Memorial Cemetery in Knoxville, Tennessee, and at the Santa Fe National Cemetery in New Mexico. The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office is still conducting recovery operations on Betio, Tarawa for the Americans still listed as missing from the battle.

A newspaper blog post remembering Sandy Bonnyman from May 2011 indicates that Frances was still living at its writing.

A chartered vessel for the United States Navy's Military Sealift Command assigned for Marine Corps' equipment prepositioning overseas carried Bonnyman's name for about twenty years beginning in the mid-1980s, but the vessel is no longer in service.

2nd Battalion, 8th Marines is currently active with the 2nd Marine Division and the II Marine Expeditionary Force. Their home, when not deployed overseas, is Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

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