b. 02/05/1910 Atlanta, Georgia. d. 23/11/1943 Betio, Tarawa.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 20-22/11/1943 Tarawa, Gilbert Islands.
Born on May 2, 1910, in Atlanta, Georgia, Bonnyman's family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, 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 American football. Dropping out of college after his sophomore year, he signed up for the Army Air Corps and entered flight training in June 1932 but 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.
In October 1942, Bonnyman sailed for the South Pacific aboard the SS Matsonia. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Guadalcanal as part of a Marine pioneer unit (akin 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.
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.
The remains of 36 Marines, including Bonnyman's, were interred in a battlefield cemetery whose location was lost by the end of the war. The cemetery was located in March 2015. On 26 July 2015, the bodies were repatriated to the United States, arriving at Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam in Honolulu Hawaii. On August 27, 2015 his remains were identified and on September 28, 2015, he was returned to his childhood home town of Knoxville, Tennessee and interred with his family, with full military honors at West Knoxville's Berry Highland Memorial Cemetery.
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.
BURIAL LOCATION: BERRY HIGHLAND MEMORIAL CEMETERY, WEST KNOXVILLE.
Section 18, Lot 45, Grave 1
Court of the Missing, Honolulu, Hawaii
(before his body was found)