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Alexander Bonnyman’s Medal of Honor

Sandy Boogyman led the way for other marines during a bloody assault and earned the medal of honor.
Sandy Boogyman led the way for other marines during a bloody assault and earned the medal of honor.

Sandy Bonnyman led the best way for different marines throughout a bloody assault and earned the medal of honor.

By Joseph M. Horodysk

4 Medals of Honor have been awarded for acts of conspicuous gallantry in the course of the invasion of Tarawa atoll within the Pacific throughout World Struggle II. It’s maybe indicative of that four-day ordeal that three of them have been awarded posthumously. The quotation most coated within the press on the time, which caught the creativeness of the American public, was given to the household of U.S. Marine 1st Lieutenant Alexander Bonnyman for his actions on November 22, 1943, the ultimate day of battle.

A Man Out of the Army

Maybe no different particular person greatest represented the typical American male of center America than did Alexander Bonnyman. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, on Might 2, 1910, Bonnyman grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, after his household moved there when he was two years previous. Bonnyman’s father turned president of the Blue Diamond Coal Firm of Knoxville, one of many widest distributors of coal for residence heating on the time. Bonnyman attended Mrs. J.A. Thackston’s Faculty in Knoxville as a youth and graduated from Newman Excessive Faculty in Lakewood, New Jersey, earlier than getting into Princeton College in 1928.

“Sandy was a really good-looking man, a pleasure to be with,” stated his 99-year-old classmate John Harmon, who till lately nonetheless went to work in his funding workplace in suburban Chicago twice every week. “We ate lunch within the Commons and talked about ladies.”

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Bonnyman studied engineering and emerged as a university soccer star throughout his sophomore yr, enjoying guard on the 1928 Tigers soccer staff. Ever stressed, he dropped out of school in 1930, missing the grades essential to advance to his junior yr. He lastly enlisted within the Military Air Corps as a flying cadet on June 28, 1932.

He attended preflight faculty at Randolph Subject, Texas, however for causes nonetheless unclear washed out of the aviation program and acquired an honorable discharge on September 19 of that very same yr. He discovered employment in his father’s firm and married an area sweetheart named Josephine Bell, in San Antonio, Texas, on February 15, 1933. All the time striving to enhance his lot in life, Bonnyman moved to New Mexico in 1938, the place he bought a small copper mine with curiosity in a second in Santa Rosa, about 60 miles outdoors Santa Fe, and began his personal small mining enterprise on the age of 28. Throughout this era he fathered three daughters, Frances, Josephine, and Alexandra. He appeared to have discovered his place in life.

“Sandy” Bonnyman: An Island-Hopping Marine

When conflict broke out in 1941, Bonnyman was exempt from service as a consequence of his age (31) and the truth that he was operating an organization producing strategically very important materials crucial for the warfare effort. However, decided to see motion, he signed up as soon as once more for Military Air Corps flight coaching and washed out as soon as extra, reportedly for buzzing too many management towers. He then turned to the Marine Corps, which accepted him as a personal in July 1942. He enlisted in Phoenix, Arizona, and acquired his primary coaching on the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California.

“Sandy” Bonnyman, as he was recognized to his buddies, sailed for the South Pacific in October of that yr aboard the transport USS Matsonia as a member of the sixth Marines, 2nd Marine Division, headed for Guadalcanal. He served with distinction in the course of the Guadalcanal marketing campaign as a part of a Marine pioneer unit (just like a light-weight Military fight engineer group), utilizing his engineering expertise throughout his time there to construct a vitally wanted bridge throughout the flooded Poha River. Now a corporal, on the conclusion of the marketing campaign in February 1943, he acquired a battlefield fee to the rank of second lieutenant in recognition of what his superiors described as distinctive management expertise.

After a stateside depart, he noticed his household for what can be the final time. Then, the Marines started intensive coaching for the upcoming marketing campaign to grab Tarawa, an atoll within the Gilbert Islands. On September 1, 1943, Bonnyman was promoted but once more to government officer of the 2nd Battalion, eighth Marines shore social gathering, detailed to deal with shore logistics and the touchdown of males and provides. Bonnyman’s civilian expertise, temperament, and expertise have been deemed very best for the publish and would come to play an important half within the Marines’ means to return ashore in his sector towards heavy Japanese opposition.

The amphibious touchdown on the islet of Betio at Tarawa atoll on November 20, 1943, become one of many grimmest bloodbaths of the whole Pacific Struggle. A number of the touchdown craft within the first wave have been hung up on the island’s surrounding coral reefs; many males have been drowned or reduce down earlier than that they had an opportunity to make it to shore. Those that did discovered solely a slender strip of seashore a number of yards broad with little greater than a slender seawall of coconut logs for canopy.

Hitting the Seashore on Tarawa

The Japanese had had months to organize defenses on Betio, and each sq. foot was coated by Japanese weapons. Entire models have been held up on the water’s edge or reduce down making an attempt to safe a foothold. As soon as the surviving Marines reached the seashore, they confronted a community of Japanese pillboxes, snipers, and artillery hearth. By dusk the Marines ashore have been hanging onto a tenuous foothold.

Bonnyman’s place as government officer of the 2nd Battalion Shore Social gathering didn’t give him direct fight duty. However, he took on a management position within the chaos, assembling and main an advert hoc assault staff, as proven within the 1944 documentary With the Marines at Tarawa. “He was a very good, likable man, however he took no guff,” remembered Leroy Kisling of Modesto, California, then a sergeant who served with Bonnyman as a demolition man on Tarawa. He recalled Bonnyman as a beneficiant man who would share his officer’s liquor ration with the noncommissioned officers. “Wading into Tarawa, all of us had our palms full. One of many guys had a mine detector, and he thought it was too heavy, so he dropped it into the ocean. Bonnyman threatened to ship the man again beneath enemy hearth to get it. His angle was, ‘You’ve received a job to do; you’d higher do it.’ ”

Sandy Bonnyman quickly demonstrated the braveness and valor on that first day that gained him the gratitude of a grateful nation at the price of his personal life. When the assault troops comprising the primary wave have been pinned down by heavy enemy artillery hearth on the seaward finish of the lengthy Betio pier, Bonnyman, appearing on his personal initiative, gathered a gaggle of 5 males and led them throughout the open pier, swept by steady Japanese machine-gun and mortar hearth, to the seashore past. There he obtained flamethrowers and demolition costs and oversaw the destruction of a number of enemy installations that have been stopping the Marines from shifting ahead.

Sandy Boogyman led the way for other marines during a bloody assault and earned the medal of honor.

Seen within the middle of this motion photograph on Tarawa, a Marine movie photographer data the swift assault towards a Japanese strongpoint. Though the commander of the Japanese garrison boasted that Betio was impregnable, the Marines captured their goal in 76 hours.

Preventing With “Forlorn Hope”

On the second day, November 21, the Marine advance was held up by a cement blockhouse and a big, sand-covered redoubt, later referred to as Bonnyman’s Hill. The blockhouse, containing no less than 150 Japanese defenders, was impervious to air assault and shelling from the naval vessels assembled offshore. Destruction of this place would open a gap in the complete Japanese defensive position, permitting the Marines to pour via to the inside of the island.

The Japanese place, 40 yards ahead of the Marine strains, was inflicting heavy casualties. An advert hoc squad of various engineers, together with Corporal Harry Niehoff main a demolitions part and Corporal John Borich in command of two absolutely loaded flamethrowers, was assembled. Neither of those males knew Bonnyman earlier than that second.

“He simply confirmed up,” remembered Niehoff. “Till that point we have been being held up with no achieve to point out for it.” The unit was nicknamed “Forlorn Hope.”

The preliminary assault carried the lads ahead virtually to the mouth of the Japanese place, and numerous Japanese troops have been killed alongside the best way. Nevertheless, the Marines have been ultimately crushed again in need of ammunition. Because the day pale, Bonnyman surveyed the Japanese place with an skilled engineer’s eye, rigorously learning the strategy to the bunker, the varied outlying machine-gun positions, and taking particular discover of the massive air vents that protruded from the highest of the bunker. Tomorrow can be totally different.

Bonnyman’s Heroic Assault

Bonnyman’s third and final day on Tarawa, November 22, dawned vibrant and clear to seek out the Marines nonetheless pinned down in the identical positions that they had occupied on the day before today. Beneath the sweltering tropical solar the temperature soared to 110 levels Farenheit later within the day. By this time one other particular person had hooked up himself to Bonnyman’s squad, a Marine Corps photographer by the identify of Corporal Obie Newcomb. Newcomb shortly realized he was within the presence of somebody uncommon and determined to comply with the lieutenant’s assault together with his digital camera. The motion he was about to report belied the oft-repeated Hollywood fable of Bonnyman strapping on a flamethrower and singlehandedly taking over the Japanese. What occurred that day was the results of teamwork, but in addition the clever, selfless, and completely fearless management of Sandy Bonnyman.

When Bonnyman sensed his staff of 21 males was prepared, he instructed his fellow Marines to put down a withering masking hearth. Rifles, automated weapons, and mortars minimize unfastened as Bonnyman vaulted over the seawall, darted for the safety of a close-by picket fence, and crawled his solution to the sting of the bunker. At common intervals the others made their means over. At a sign the overlaying Marines shifted their hearth greater, and Bonnyman’s group ready for the ultimate assault.

What occurred subsequent was witnessed by tons of of Marines that day, every remembering slightly piece of the swirling motion from his distinctive vantage level. Bonnyman’s males scrambled up the sandy slope of the 10-foot-high mound overlaying the bunker, every making an attempt to take care of his foothold. They instantly attracted the hearth of Japanese weapons, and the small group started taking losses. Corporal Borich made it up the left aspect of the bunker, cremated the closest enemy machine gunner together with his flamethrower, then unleashed an extended blast of napalm to cowl the strategy of Corporal Niehoff, who threw a short-fused TNT cost to the highest of the bunker. Although doing little bodily injury to the emplacement, the ensuing explosion and smoke offered sufficient of a distraction for different engineers to start tackling the weak air vents.

Within the midst of this chaos, Main William Chamberlain, the chief officer of the eighth Marines who was answerable for the Marines offering overlaying hearth, shouted “Go!” and immediately 30 or 40 extra Marine started flying up the lethal slope. Corporal Borich exhausted his flamethrower towards the remaining machine-gun nests defending the bunker, whereas Bonnyman and Niehoff took up susceptible positions atop the japanese fringe of the bunker to offer protecting overlaying hearth for the quickly advancing infantry.

“As Bonnyman and I have been virtually elbow to elbow,” Niehoff later recalled, “we heard a cry from the lads on the south rim. Abruptly Japanese have been operating throughout and our males have been yelling that that they had breached a log and sand tunnel beneath them, which defined the mysterious look and disappearance of the Japanese troopers within the space over the previous few days.”

Unexpectedly, over 100 Japanese troopers started swarming out the bunker. The Marines scrambled for clear photographs. Pfc. Invoice Fratt remembered cursing the sluggish velocity of his bolt-action Springfield rifle. The crew of the M4 Sherman tank named Colorado fired a single canister spherical, immediately chopping down a number of dozen fleeing Japanese. Different Japanese stopped and raised their muzzles, firing again on the Marines. A vicious, close-range shootout ensued, with Bonnyman yelling for extra demolition fees to toss down the mound’s southern slope. He personally killed three Japanese troopers earlier than he was reduce down.

“Lieutenant Bonnyman raised himself up on one elbow,” Niehoff continued, “and appeared again to inform somebody behind us to get extra costs, once I heard the bullet hit him. He by no means moved after that and I knew he was lifeless. I felt like I used to be subsequent as a result of we have been lined up on the highest rim like geese in a capturing gallery.”

Corporal Newcomb was the one different Marine within the motion who knew Bonnyman on sight from the day before today and was capable of monitor his actions all through the battle. “He didn’t need to go as much as take that blockhouse,” he wrote in a letter he despatched to Bonnyman’s household, “however there was no stopping him. It was an ideal hell gap and the boys wanted slightly urging when issues began to interrupt. I can nonetheless see him waving the boys up over that blockhouse and listen to his southern voice urging them on. He was one of many bravest and most brave males we had with us.” Bonnyman was 33 years previous when he died.

Incomes a Posthumous Medal of Honor

The battle continued for what appeared like an eternity however was in actuality solely a matter of some 10 or 15 minutes, till all of the Japanese have been flushed out and eradicated and the blockhouse destroyed. A Japanese counterattack was swiftly crushed again. Survivors of the assault ended up using two 54-pound blocks of TNT and a whole case of gelatin dynamite on this blockhouse alone, with engineers making use of every of those fees by hand, actually hugging the lethal fortification within the course of.

Sandy Boogyman led the way for other marines during a bloody assault and earned the medal of honor.

Marines rush ahead in help of the preliminary assault towards a Japanese strongpoint at Tarawa. This photograph is certainly one of a collection that captured the sequence of occasions and was taken by Marine Corporal Obie Newcomb.

A bitter Niehoff appeared for Bonnyman’s physique after the capturing had died down. “His physique was nonetheless in the identical place on the sting of the shelter, subsequent to a Japanese machine gunner, as once I left him. However nobody knew who he was till they learn his canine tags. He was already unrecognizable.” Of Bonnyman’s 21 Marines, solely 13 survived the assault. Main Chamberlain, together with Corporals Niehoff and Borich, offered sufficient eyewitness corroboration for Marine Maj. Gen. Julian Smith to advocate Sandy Bonnyman for the Medal of Honor.

Someday in the course of the evaluate course of the advice was downgraded to the Navy Cross. However to its credit score, the 2nd Marine Division continued, and ultimately the Navy Division reversed its determination and awarded Alexander Bonnyman the posthumous Medal of Honor three years later. All the motion was captured in a collection of exceptional nonetheless pictures taken by Obie Newcomb. By no means earlier than or since has a Medal of Honor winner been photographed through the motion that earned him the award.

Due to the achievements of Bonnyman’s “Forlorn Hope” squad, a breach was made within the Japanese strains enabling the leathernecks to proceed to the inside of Betio, rolling up Japanese positions as they went till all resistance ceased and the islet was declared safe later that very same day, with the ultimate actions happening on the 23rd.

The Search For Bonnyman’s Stays

The situation of Bonnyman’s stays together with dozens of others who died on that island was misplaced to historical past. Some early accounts have his physique being buried at sea, although probably he was positioned in an unmarked widespread grave with different Marines who died on Tarawa and coated with sand by a bulldozer. The Marines buried their lifeless shortly within the humid tropics the place they fought, hoping to retrieve the our bodies later.

For many years, the whereabouts of Bonnyman’s stays have been unknown. There are not any neatly tended army cemeteries on Betio. On this overcrowded, trash-littered Pacific islet, development tasks routinely flip up skeletal stays. The united statesDefense Division’s Prisoner of Warfare/Lacking Personnel Workplace maintains that Bonnyman’s physique was “non-recovered.” Different sources say that his physique lies in Oahu’s Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. His Marine casualty card lists each a short lived grave used instantly after the battle and a “memorial” grave with a marker however no physique.

In November 2008, researchers from the volunteer group Historical past Flight reported that that they had situated on Tarawa the stays of 139 of the 541 U.S. Marines whose our bodies have been by no means discovered, together with these of Sandy Bonnyman. Mark Noah, the chief director of Historical past Flight, stated that Bonnyman’s physique most certainly lies underneath a mud parking zone. One other personal researcher, William Niven, overlaying Google Earth maps and pictures on the invasion maps, concluded that the stays of Bonnyman and 39 different Marines are situated in a unique spot “simply southeast and simply inland of the previous pier the Marines fought so arduous to take.”

Historical past Flight and WFI Analysis Group raised $90,000 and used ground-penetrating radar and GPS applied sciences together with army data to find the attainable stays. A restoration of the stays on the Tarawa atoll might probably be the most important identification of American conflict lifeless within the nation’s historical past.

In September 2010, the Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command started excavating six attainable burial websites on Tarawa with the objective of figuring out attainable U.S. stays, however no phrase on any findings has been launched. “There’s a lengthy course of we now have to undergo earlier than we will positively determine any stays we might discover,” stated Gregory Fox, lead archaeologist for the mission on Tarawa. “And that may take months and even years.”

Clay Bonnyman Evans’ Journey to Tarawa

Discovering his grandfather’s stays is the objective of Clay Bonnyman Evans of Niwot, Colorado, Bonnyman’s final dwelling grandson. Evans has made the journey in individual to see the stays of the bunker the place the grandfather he by no means knew gained the Medal of Honor. Evans is a author for an area newspaper and is writing a e-book about his grandfather. “That journey to Tarawa has been the dramatic centerpiece I’ve been ready on. This isn’t solely about me, our household placing an finish to the warfare and household heroes, however additionally it is concerning the Marines not leaving anybody behind,” he commented.

Evans stated he was not capable of get to a website on the north aspect of Betio the place some JPAC members and others assume Bonnyman could be buried. He did, nevertheless, stroll as much as the bunker, which is known as for his grandfather. “I obtained up on prime and there was nonetheless sand and weeds,” he stated.

A lot of the bunker stays standing to this present day. Evans stated it didn’t hit him about his grandfather’s gallantry till he walked again down Bonnyman Hill and reached Pink Seashore three, the army designation, roughly the place his grandfather got here ashore almost 70 years in the past. “I seemed again towards the bunker, and that despatched a shiver up my backbone,” he stated. “It was a Marine’s eye view.”

Although she was solely seven years previous when her father left for the struggle, Frances Bonnyman Evans stated she remembers Sandy as “tall and good-looking, very outgoing with plenty of associates and I collect, considerably impetuous.” She defined that his management position and spectacular efficiency at Tarawa have been a mirrored image of his adventurous nature.

“He was a reckless kind of individual,” stated Gordon Bonnyman, one in every of Alexander’s brothers, in an interview for the Veteran’s Oral Historical past Challenge on the College of Tennessee in April 2000. Gordon served with Merrill’s Marauders and was stationed in Burma when he acquired a letter informing him of his brother’s demise in battle.

Alexander “Sandy” Bonnyman’s Legacy

Along with the Medal of Honor, throughout his 16-month profession within the Marines, Bonnyman additionally earned a Purple Coronary heart, Presidential Unit Quotation, the Asiatic-Pacific Marketing campaign medal with three bronze stars, and the World Warfare II Victory Medal. The Medal of Honor was introduced to his then 12-year-old daughter, Frances Bonnyman, by Secretary of the Navy James F. Forrestal throughout ceremonies on the Navy Division in Washington, D.C., on January 22, 1947.

Sandy Bonnyman’s legacy lives on not solely within the many relations who adopted him to Princeton, but in addition within the two memorials on campus that bear his identify. One is contained in the Nassau Corridor Memorial Room, the place Sandy’s identify is inscribed on the listing honoring college casualties in World Struggle II. The second is a bronze star that rests on the window ledge of his former dorm room, Blair Corridor 54. His star is among the many seen in campus dormitories, meant to commemorate these alumni who died in fight in World Warfare I, World Conflict II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Bonnyman’s legacy lives on. Because of the collection of extraordinary pictures by Obie Newcomb, his actions—whether or not famous by identify or not—have appeared in newsreels and documentaries of the battle for Tarawa. He’ll endlessly be pictured as a real leatherneck, going over the hill together with his fellow Marines, to satisfy no matter destiny lay past.