The grandson of one of the Corps' most ferocious officers killed in the World War II Battle of Tarawa will finally bring his grandfather's remains home, along with those of dozens of other fallen Marines.
More than 70 years ago, Marine 1st Lt. Alexander "Sandy" Bonnyman, Jr. was determined to blast a hole through the deeply entrenched enemy on the tiny island of Betio in the Republic of Kiribati.
Bonnyman's "dauntless fighting spirit, unrelenting aggressiveness and forceful leadership" led to his posthumous award of the Medal of Honor, according to his citation.
Alexander "Sandy" Bonnyman, Jr. was a Marine who was killed in action during the Battle of Tarawa in World War II. A combat engineer, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the strategically important assault on a Japanese bombproof shelter during the Battle of Tarawa.
Photo Credit: DoD
"History Flight is extremely pleased to announce the discovery and recovery of historic Cemetery 27 on Betio Island as part of its 10-year, multi-million-dollar effort to recover hundreds of Marines lost to history, their nation and their families in 1943," said founder and director Mark Noah in a press release Sunday.
The non-profit, dedicated to finding and recovering the remains of 84,000 missing American service members, located the burial trench in 2011 and began excavation in March. They have since recovered the remains of at least three dozen fallen Marines.
"Although we have dental matches to known missing Tarawa Marines for more than half of the recovered individuals, we are seeking DNA reference samples from families of the Tarawa missing," History Flight board secretary Ed Huffine said in a news release.
"We plan to have all of these recovered heroes identified by the end of the summer," Huffine said.
Clay Bonnyman Evans never got to meet his grandfather, but grew up in admiration of his legacy.
When History Flight began calling families to obtain DNA samples of the Marines unaccounted for at Tarawa, Evans jumped at the opportunity to volunteer with the group and flew to Betio to assist in excavations.
"They're a small non-profit, but these guys have done what no one else could do," Evans said. "This is a group that knows how to get things done."
Evans assisted the History Flight archaeological team in excavating Cemetery 27, which was located under a parking lot on Betio.
"It's gold," Baker told him.
"This is a tremendous example of how private-public partnerships can contribute to our accounting efforts both now and in the future."
Bonnyman's family intends to conduct a public burial ceremony in late September to celebrate his return home.
"This has been simply incredible," Evans said. "Our family is so, so grateful."