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1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman Jr. Returns Home from Tarawa

By Cpl. Sara Graham | Marine Corps Forces Reserves | September 29, 2015

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             A long procession of Marines leads an artillery caisson carrying a casket

draped by an American flag. The procession marches up a steep hill to a gravesite with a

large white headstone bearing the name Bonnyman.

Atop the hill near the headstone six Marines take the casket, lay it down and

prepare to render military honors to the Marine named Bonnyman who has finally returned

home.

1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman Jr. returned home to be buried with military honors at Berry

Highland Memorial Cemetery in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Sept. 27, 2015. Bonnyman joined

Marine Forces Reserve in July 1942 and was killed 72 years ago in Tarawa, his remains along

 with several other Marines and Sailors who were never recovered after being lost following the

battle in 1943.

According to Bonnyman’s Medal of Honor citation, during an assault against enemy

Japanese-held Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands from Nov. 20-22, 1943, he took the initiative

and led his pinned down assault troops to the beach, then voluntarily obtained flame throwers

and demolitions and organized the shore party to blow up several hostile instillations. Bonnyman

was determined to make an opening in the enemy’s defense line. Under heavy casualties and

hostile fire, he voluntarily placed demolitions in the entrance of a large Japanese emplacement

and then led his men in the assault. After gaining his objective, he made a heroic stand on the

edge of the structure, defending his position and killing three enemies before he was

mortally wounded.

Following the battle, Bonnyman was buried in Tarawa where his burial site was lost. In

March of 2015, History Flight, a Florida-based non-profit tasked with recovering the remains of

missing U.S. service members, discovered the remains of Bonnyman and his fellow Marines,

giving families who never expected to have their heroes come home a new hope and the ability

to bury their fallen heroes on home ground.

The Marines leading Bonnyman’s procession were joined by his family, who have waited

a life time to finally lay their hero to rest.

“My grandmother and grandfather, there was one thing that they wanted after they knew

he had been killed. They wanted his remains brought home,” said Alexandra Bonnyman Prejean,

daughter of Bonnyman.

The family gathered at the white headstone to offer their prayers and watch as the

Marines from Marine Corps Barracks Washington rendered honors for the fallen Medal of Honor

hero. The Marines work hard to help families find closure and honor heroes and veterans like

Bonnyman.

“We do this for the families and the Marine, no matter what, even afterwards you are a

Marine, you are part of us,” said Sgt. Christopher Tryon, guide for Company A, 1st Marines,

Marine Barracks 8th and I. “Even after you are gone, we will still take care of the Marine and

their family.”

The Marine Corps puts great importance on helping families while they are serving or

once they are out. They continue to provide military honors and funeral details for fallen

veterans, a task both active duty and Reserve Marines take very seriously. This funeral detail was

unique and an opportunity to honor a fallen hero who was fighting for his brothers more than 70

years ago.

“His remains had been missing for 70 years and, amazingly and almost miraculously, his

remains were recovered in recent weeks including 35 other Marines and Sailors,” said Maj.

Gen. Burke Whitman, Headquarters Marine Corps director of Marine and family readiness.

“He is one of the first to return home, and it is a huge honor and privilege for us to give him full

military honors here in Knoxville and to be buried with the rest of his family”

Not only was it an honor to return Bonnyman home to his family after so many years,

but it was a unforgettable experience for the Marines. They were able to bury a hero, one they

have only heard stories of and one who they have seen as an example of what it means to go

above and beyond the call of duty.

“Marines love to serve and every single Marine has made the decision to serve in the

defense of this country,” said Whitman. “When someone like Lt. Bonnyman serves in such an

extraordinary, exemplary way by going way above and beyond the call of duty and being

recognized with the Medal of Honor, it is inspiring to us and this could not be a greater day to

honor that service and the inspiration he gave to others.”


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