The late Marine First Lieutenant Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., of Knoxville, Tennessee, who gallantly gave his life in battle for Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands, on 22 November 1943, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, for his heroism.
The coveted medal was presented to his teen-aged daughter, Miss Frances Bonnyman, by James F. Forrestal, then Secretary of the Navy, during appropriate ceremonies at the Navy Department, Washington, D.C., 22 January 1947.
"Sandy" Bonnyman was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on 2 May 1910, but when only two years old, his family moved to Knoxville. Alexander Bonnyman, Sr., father of the deceased, was president of the Blue Diamond Coal Company of Knoxville.
As a youth, the Marine officer attended Mrs. J.A. Thackston's School in Knoxville and was graduated from Newman School in Lakewood, New Jersey, before entering Princeton University. A member of the class of 1932, he was first-stringer on Princeton's football team until he left school in 1930.
The Tennessean enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a Flying Cadet on 28 June 1932 and was sent to the Preflight School at Randolph Field, Texas. He was honorably discharged 19 September 1932.
Following his discharge he went to work with his father, whose firm is one of the largest coal mining companies in the United States. On 15 February 1933 he was married to Miss Josephine Bell at San Antonio, Texas, and it was in 1938 that Alexander Jr., acquired his own copper mine in the mountains about 60 miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
When Alexander Bonnyman decided to join the Marines in July 1942, he enlisted as a private at Phoenix, Arizona. Subsequently he received his recruit training at the Marine Corps Base, San Diego, California, and in October of that year, Private Bonnyman sailed for the South Pacific, aboard the USS Matsonia with the 6th Marines, 2d Marine Division.
Combat in the final stages of the Guadalcanal campaign followed for the 6th Marines and the Tennessean had his first encounter with the Japanese. In February 1943 the Marine, now a corporal, received a field promotion to the rank of second lieutenant. The next step was Tarawa.
Landing on D-Day, 20 November First Lieutenant Bonnyman, promoted on 1 September 1943, was Executive Officer of the 2d Battalion, 8th Marines' Shore Party.
When the assault troops were pinned down by heavy enemy artillery fire at the seaward end of the long Betio Pier, Lieutenant Bonnyman on his own initiative, organized and led the men over the open pier to the beach.
There he voluntarily obtained flame throwers and demolitions, organized his pioneer shore party into assault demolitionists and directed the blowing up of several hostile installations before the close of D-Day.
On the second day of the epic struggle for that strategically important piece of coral, Lieutenant Bonnyman, determined to effect an opening in the enemy's strongly defended defense line, led his demolitions teams in an assault on the entrance to a huge bombproof shelter which contained approximately 150 Japanese soldiers.
This strong point was inflicting heavy casualties upon the Marines and was holding up their advance. The enemy position was about forty yards forward of the Marine lines. Lieutenant Bonnyman advanced his team to the mouth of the position killing many of the defenders before they were forced to withdraw to replenish their supply of ammunition and grenades.
On the third and final day of the Tarawa battle, the Knoxville miner renewed his attack upon the enemy position, leading his men in the placing of flame throwers and demolitions in both mouths of the cave.
Realizing that the seizure of this formidable bastion was imperative to make the Marine attack successful, Lieutenant Bonnyman pressed his attack and gained the top of the structure flushing more than one hundred of its occupants into the open where they were shot down.
Assailed by additional Japanese, the lieutenant stood at the forward edge of the position and killed three of the attackers before he fell mortally wounded. His men beat off the counterattack and broke the back of the resistance. The island was declared secured on the day of Lieutenant Bonnyman's death.
The late lieutenant was survived by his wife and three daughters, Frances, Josephine and Alexandra.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Lieutenant Bonnyman was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three Bronze Stars, and the World War II Victory Medal
Lt Bonnyman’s remains were laid to rest in Knoxville Tn on September 27, 2015, with full Military honors