WWII war hero and Medal of Honor recipient, 1st Lt. Alexander “Sandy” Bonnyman Jr., is one step closer to his final resting place. Bonnyman’s funeral service and burial were open to the public. They’re set for Sunday September 27, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at West Knoxville’s Berry Highland Memorial Cemetery.
Bonnyman’s grandson Clay Bonnyman said: “Everything that’s happening here, I really want to dedicate to my great-grandparents, to my mother and to my aunt,” Evans said, “because they are the ones that made the true sacrifice.” Adding that the homecoming of Bonnyman’s remains fulfills his late great-grandparents’ lifelong pursuit.
After being recovered on a remote Pacific island called Tarawa Atoll, the remains of 36 U.S. Marines killed in World War II are finally returning to the United States.
Stripes reported earlier in July that the remains, including those of Medal of Honor recipient Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., were brought home to U.S. soil over the weekend, after which a repatriation ceremony was scheduled to take place at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii.
History Flight has started identifying the remains, and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency will complete the effort, the Marines said. The remains will be returned to their families after they’ve been identified.
First Lt. Alexander Bonnyman Jr. and his fellow Marines were killed during the Battle of Tarawa in November 1943. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously after witnesses credited Bonnyman with leading forces who fought back at the Japanese, saved U.S. Marines and eventually helped the United States secure the island of Betio.
Medal of Honor Citation
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS RESERVE
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.
Following the battle, the military issued a letter explaining that most forces killed at Tarawa were lost at sea, but a team of researchers led by Bonnyman’s grandson successfully recovered the remains at the end of March this year. It had been more than 70 years since the Marines lost their lives in battle.
Few Americans were aware U.S. Marines were still buried on Betio between 1950 and the dawn of the 21st century. Noah learned of the “lost graves of Tarawa” while searching for a downed plane in the Betio lagoon in 2006. History Flight spent thousands of hours searching archives for clues before sending teams to the island for six weeks in 2008 to locate former cemetery sites and scan them with ground penetrating radar.
To date, History Flight has recovered a minimum of 120 individuals once declared “unrecoverable” from Betio’s sandy tombs. Among those recovered at Cemetery 27 by the recovery team are six sets of unknown and possibly unrecorded remains.
The public funeral for Marine First Lt. Alexander Bonnyman Jr. has now been confirmed for noon Sunday, Sept. 27 at Highland Memorial Cemetery in Knoxville, Tennessee.