Tenn. town prepares to receive World War II hero’s remains decades after his death
A U.S. Marine posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during a World War Two battle will be laid to rest on Sunday in his Knoxville hometown after decades buried on the Pacific atoll where he died, Tennessee officials said.
First Lieutenant Alexander “Sandy” Bonnyman Jr. was killed on Nov. 22, 1943, while leading a 21-man team of Marines in an attack on a large concrete bunker from which Japanese soldiers were firing on advancing U.S. troops during the Battle of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands.
U.S. service members killed in the fight were buried in several battlefield cemeteries immediately after the fighting.
Bonnyman’s remains, as well as those of other Marines, were unearthed by archaeologists earlier this year from battlefield burial sites in the Tarawa Atoll and confirmed using dental records, according to the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has declared Sunday a day of mourning and ordered flags lowered to half-staff in recognition of Bonnyman, whose remains will be interred at Berry Highland Memorial Cemetery in Knoxville.
A caisson pulled by a team of six horses will carry Bonnyman’s casket to the grave site, said Steve Cameron, commander of the Knoxville-based Civil War Reenactment unit Burrough’s Battery.
“I was in the military myself and it is a great honor to be a part of this,” said Charles Hall, the battery’s farrier, who will be one of three men guiding the six-horse team.
Bonnyman was one of about 1,100 Marines killed during the battle, which raged for several days on the Tarawa Atoll and left more than 2,000 other Marines wounded, according to the Tennessee Department of Veterans Services.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military honor, for exceptional valor leading his team over three days of unremitting battle, according to the citation signed by President Harry Truman.
Eighty-eight Marines, including the Marine Corps Band, will participate in Sunday’s ceremonies, said Cameron, who has been working with organizers.
(Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Bill Trott)