Remembering Tarawa: 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman

November 20, 2018 marks the 75th anniversary of the American assault on Tarawa Atoll during World War II. Over several days of intense fighting, approximately 1,000 Marines were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded. One of these Marines was 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., Company F, 2nd Battalion, 18th Marines Regiment, 2nd Marines Division.

Bonnyman personally led a 21-man team in an initial attack against Japanese forces, where they engaged in close-quarter fighting. As a result of these attacks, Bonnyman was reported killed in action on Nov. 22, 1943. He posthumously received the Medal of Honor for these actions.

In order to accommodate the needs of the American military after the atoll had been successfully captured, U.S. Navy Combat Engineers significantly restructured the landscape. In doing so, temporary battlefield cemeteries on the island were affected. When the Army Graves Registration Service recovered remains from the island for repatriation in 1947, Bonnyman’s remains were not recovered. Because of this, his name was inscribed on the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial with more than 18,000 other Americans who died in World War II and were considered missing in action, or lost or buried at sea.

In June 2015, a History Flight Inc. team notified the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) that their group discovered a burial site on Betio Island and recovered the remains of what was believed to be U.S. Marines who fought during the battle in November 1943. During the recovery operations, one of their anthropologists compared the dental remains recovered to Bonnyman’s dental records, suggesting a match. The remains were turned over to DPAA in July 2015.

DPAA confirmed the identification of Bonnyman using circumstantial and material evidence, as well as laboratory analysis, to include dental comparisons, which matched Bonnyman’s records. Bonnyman’s remain were returned to the United States in 2015 for burial in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Bonnyman will be honored at the Honolulu Memorial on November 19, 2018 during a special ceremony. At this time, a member of his family will place a bronze rosette next to his name on the Courts of the Missing to indicate that he has been accounted for and now rests in a known grave.