KNOXVILLE, Tenn. --
A long procession of Marines leads an artillery caisson
carrying a casket draped by an American flag. The procession marches up
a steep hill to a gravesite with a large white headstone bearing the name Bonnyman.
Atop the hill near the
headstone six Marines take the casket, lay it down and prepare to render military honors to the Marine
named Bonnyman who has finally returned home.
1st Lt. Alexander
Bonnyman Jr. returned home to be buried with military honors at Berry
Highland Memorial Cemetery in Knoxville, Tennessee,
Sept. 27, 2015. Bonnyman joined Marine Forces Reserve in July 1942 and was killed 72
years ago in Tarawa, his remains along
other Marines and sailors who were never recovered after being lost following
battle in 1943.
According to Bonnyman’s
Medal of Honor citation, "during an assault against enemy Japanese-held Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands from
Nov. 20-22, 1943, he took the initiative and led his pinned down assault troops to the beach,
then voluntarily obtained flame throwers and demolitions and organized the shore party to
blow up several hostile instillations. Bonnyman was determined to make an opening in the enemy’s
defense line. Under heavy casualties and hostile fire, he voluntarily placed demolitions in
the entrance of a large Japanese emplacement and then led his men in the assault. After gaining
his objective, he made a heroic stand on the edge of the structure, defending his position and
killing three enemies before he was mortally wounded."
Following the battle, Bonnyman
was buried in Tarawa where his burial site was lost. In March of 2015, History Flight, a Florida-based
non-profit tasked with recovering the remains of missing U.S. service members, discovered the remains
of Bonnyman and his fellow Marines, giving families who never expected to have their
heroes come home a new hope and the ability to bury their fallen heroes on home ground.
The Marines leading
Bonnyman’s procession were joined by his family, who have waited a life time to finally lay their hero to rest.
“My grandmother and
grandfather, there was one thing that they wanted after they knew he had been killed. They wanted his remains brought
home,” said Alexandra Bonnyman Prejean, daughter of Bonnyman.
The family gathered at
the white headstone to offer their prayers and watch as the
Marines from Marine Corps Barracks Washington rendered
honors for the fallen Medal of Honor hero. The Marines work hard to help families find
closure and honor heroes and veterans like Bonnyman.
“We do this for the
families and the Marine, no matter what, even afterwards you are a Marine, you are part of us,” said Sgt. Christopher
Tryon, guide for Company A, 1st Marines, Marine Barracks 8th and I. “Even after you are gone,
we will still take care of the Marine and their family.”
The Marine Corps puts
great importance on helping families while they are serving or once they are out. They continue to provide military
honors and funeral details for fallen veterans, a task both active duty and Reserve
Marines take very seriously. This funeral detail was unique and an opportunity to honor a fallen hero who
was fighting for his brothers more than 70 years ago.
“His remains had been
missing for 70 years and, amazingly and almost miraculously, his remains were recovered in recent weeks including 35
other Marines and sailors,” said Maj. Gen. Burke Whitman, Headquarters Marine Corps
director of Marine and family readiness.
“He is one of the first to return home," said Whitman. "It is a
huge honor and privilege for us to give him full military honors here in Knoxville and to be buried
with the rest of his family.”
The Marines buried a hero, one they have only heard stories of and one who they have
seen as an example of what it means to go above and beyond the call of duty.
“Marines love to serve
and every single Marine has made the decision to serve in the defense of this country,” said Whitman. "When
someone like Lt. Bonnyman serves in such an extraordinary, exemplary way by going way above and
beyond the call of duty and being recognized with the Medal of Honor, it is inspiring
to us and this could not be a greater day to honor that service and the inspiration he gave to