KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Honoring the Marines of the past is one way we keep the spirit of the Marine Corps strong. The history of our nation has seen many battles, and in the chaos men have been left behind, but the Corps does what it needs to bring its heroes home.
The remains of 1st Lt. Alexander “Sandy” Bonnyman Jr., a Medal of Honor recipient who led Marines in the Battle of Tarawa, were formally repatriated to his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, Sept. 25, 2015.
Four Marines with 2nd Marine Division were invited to attend the repatriation, conducted by Marines from Marine Corps Barracks 8th and I, Washington D.C. There, they had the opportunity to meet Boonyman’s family and even some his comrades from the war.
“It was very clear to everyone in attendance just how meaningful it was to return 1st Lt. Bonnyman home after more than 70 years,” said 1st Lt. William C. Smithson, an infantry officer with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “We all could pay respects to 1st Lt. Bonnyman and speak with the family members who had gathered there. It was an honor to meet so many people, including veterans who had fought alongside him in the Pacific, who had traveled hundreds of miles to Knoxville.”
Bonnyman was born on May 2, 1910, and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942 as World War II raged across the globe. He was among those that fought at the Battle of Guadalcanal, and afterwards earned a battlefield commission to the rank of second lieutenant due to his leadership ability.
According to Boonyman’s Medal of Honor citation, between Nov. 20-22 1943, during the Battle of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, he organized and led Marines over an open pier and directed the demolition of several hostile installations. He later volunteered to crawl approximately 40 yards forward of the held line and placed demolitions on the entrance of a large Japanese emplacement. He returned for ammunition and his Marines, leading them in an assault to seize a bombproof position on top, and effectively destroyed the emplacement. From atop the edge of the structure, he continued to assault the enemy until he was mortally wounded.
“His actions on Tarawa in November of 1943 created a legacy,” Smithson said. “It is this legacy of courage and devotion to duty that should not only be the standard for Marines of 2nd Marine Division, but for Marines everywhere.”
In keeping with II Marine Expeditionary Forces’ priority of core values, the delegation felt their presence was one that allowed them to reflect on what Marines like Bonnyman were, are and always will be made of.
“I believe that our attendance at the repatriation demonstrates that 1st Lt. Bonnyman’s actions and sacrifice will never be forgotten,” Smithson said. “The Marine Corps was committed to seeing 1st Lt. Bonnyman return home to Knoxville and be laid to rest with the dignity and honor that he so greatly deserves.”