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First Name: Alexander

Last Name: Bonnyman

Birthplace: Atlanta, GA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Home of Record: Phoenix, AZ

Date of Birth: 02 May 1910

Date of Death: 22 November 1943 (Presumed)

Rank: First Lieutenant

Years Served: 1942-1943
Alexander Bonnyman, Jr.

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Alexander 'Sandy' Bonnyman, Jr.
First Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps
Medal of Honor Recipient
World War II

First Lieutenant Alexander "Sandy" Bonnyman, Jr. was a U.S. Marine Corps officer who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during World War II.

Alexander Bonnyman, Jr. was born on 2 May 1910, in Atlanta, GA, the son of Alexander and Frances Berry Bonnyman. The Bonnyman family moved to Knoxville, TN, when he was a baby. His father was the president of Knoxville's Blue Diamond Coal Company.

Bonnyman attended Princeton University where he studied engineering and played football. Dropping out of college after his sophomore year, he signed up for the U.S. Army Air Corps and entered flight training in June 1932. He was 'washed out' three months later, reportedly "for buzzing too many control towers." He then worked in the coal industry before moving to New Mexico, where he started a copper mining business.

U.S. Marine Corps Service

At the outbreak of the war, Bonnyman was exempt from any military obligation due to his age and role in running a company producing strategically vital material for the war effort. Nevertheless, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Private at Phoenix, AZ. Bonnyman received his recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, CA.

In October 1942, Bonnyman sailed for the South Pacific aboard the USSĀ Matsonia. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Guadalcanal as part of a Marine pioneer unit (similar to a lightly equipped version of an Army combat engineer group). In February 1943, he received a battlefield commission to the rank of Second Lieutenant in recognition of what his superiors described as 'exceptional leadership skills.'

Bonnyman's civilian background, temperament and skills would come to play an important role at Tarawa in November 1943, where he was assigned to a shore party handling beachhead logistics. When the assault troops were pinned down by heavy enemy artillery fire at the seaward end of the long Betio Pier, on his own initiative Bonnyman organized and led five men over the open pier to the beach. There he voluntarily obtained flame throwers and demolitions and directed the blowing up of several hostile installations.

On the second day of the struggle, 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. The enemy position was about forty yards forward of the Marine lines. Bonnyman advanced his team to the mouth of the position and killed many of the defenders. His team was forced to withdraw to replenish its supply of ammunition and grenades. Bonnyman again pressed his attack and gained the top of the structure, thereby flushing more than one hundred of its occupants into the open where they were shot down. When the Japanese fought back, 1stLt Bonnyman stood at the forward edge of the position and killed several attackers before he fell mortally wounded. Betio Island was declared secured on the same day. For his heroic actions during the battle, Bonnyman was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps Reserves.

Place and date: Tarawa, Gilbert Islands, 20-22 November 1943.

Citation: 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.

The Medal of Honor was formally presented to his family by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal on 22 January 1947. Frances, his 12-year-old daughter, accepted the Medal on behalf of the Bonnyman family.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Purple Heart
Navy Presidential Unit Citation
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 3 Service Stars
World War II Victory Medal


The Pellissippi Parkway bridge over the Tennessee River on the Knox-Blount County Line in Tennessee is designated the Lt. Alexander "Sandy" Bonnyman Memorial Bridge in his memory.

Death and Burial

First Lieutenant Alexander "Sandy" Bonnyman, Jr. was killed in action on 22 November 1943.

According to the Defense Missing Personnel Office, Bonnyman's remains were "non-recovered." After the war, the Graves Registration Service recorded his body as having been 'buried at sea,' however; this report was later determined to be unfounded.

It was instead believed that he was buried in a mass grave somewhere on Betio. In 2010, a team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) began a recovery mission on Tarawa in hopes of locating the mass graves and identifying the remains of Bonnyman and other missing Americans.

Bonnyman's name is inscribed on the Wall of the Missing in the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, HI. Cenotaphs for Bonnyman exist in the Santa Fe National Cemetery, Santa Fe, NM, and the Bonnyman family plot in Highland Memorial Gardens in his native Knoxville, TN.

Update Regarding Recovery and Final Burial of Remains

In early 2015, Bonnyman's remains were among 36 unidentified servicemen the group History Flight exhumed in Tarawa in the Republic of Kiribati. The remains were taken to Hawaii for identification in July. The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced on Monday, 21 September 2015, that it had identified Bonnyman's remains using dental records and other evidence.

A bugler played taps and a color guard rendered honors for Bonnyman during a departure ceremony for his remains on Thursday, 24 September 2015, in Honolulu. Bonnyman's family laid him to rest on Sunday, 27 September 2015, at the same cemetery where his parents are buried.

First Lieutenant Alexander Bonnyman, Jr. is buried at the Berry Highland Memorial Cemetery in Knoxville, Knox County, TN, in Section 18.

Honoree ID: 1300   Created by: MHOH




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