Alexander Bonnyman, Jr. was born on May 2, 1910 in Atlanta, Georgia. His family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee when he was a child. He attended Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey and studied engineering. He also played football and basketball at Princeton. After his sophomore year he left college to join the Army Air Corp, but was dismissed from that service. Later he worked in both the coal and copper mining business.
Copper was an essential construction resource for the military during World War II. Bonnyman had a wife and two young children and was exempt from the war as he was providing critical strategic material.
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 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.
Alexander Bonnyman was exempt from military service when World War II started because of age and occupation, but he enlisted in the Marine Corp as a private in Phoenix, Arizona on July 7, 1942. He fought in the Pacific and participated in several critical battles before being fatally wounded at the Battle of Tarawa on November 23, 1943. Various unconfirmed reports of his burial location have not been confirmed.
Following basic training he saw his first combat during the Battle of Guadalcanal throughout 1942. He acquitted himself well there and was promoted to Second Lieutenant in February of 1943. He was known among his superiors as an excellent leader who was well-liked by those under his command.
Shown here are the medals Lieutenant Bonnyman earned during his distinguished career. They include:
A grave marker has been placed in the Santa Fe National Cemetery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
He is inscribed on the Wall of the Missing at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. However, in 2015 his remains were located and verified. He was returned to Knoxville, Tennessee and buried in Berry Highland Memorial Cemetery on September 27, 2015.
There is a memorial at the family plot in Knoxville, Tennessee.