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Reclaiming a Lost Hero of World War II

Tarawa, Kiribati - U.S. Marines storm Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands. The battle (November 20-23, 1943) was one of the bloodiest of WWII.
(U.S. Marine Corps Courtesy Photo by Warrant Officer Obie Newcomb, Jr.)
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Tarawa, Kiribati - U.S. Marines storm Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands. The battle (November 20-23, 1943) was one of the bloodiest of WWII.

In November 1943, Marine 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr. was mortally wounded while leading a successful assault on a critical Japanese fortification on the Pacific atoll of Tarawa, and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor. The brutal, bloody 76-hour battle would ultimately claim the lives of more than 1,100 Marines and 5,000 Japanese forces.

But Bonnyman's remains, along with those of hundreds of other Marines, were hastily buried and lost to history following the battle, and it would take an extraordinary effort by a determined group of dedicated civilians to find him.

In 2010, having become disillusioned with the U.S. government's half-hearted efforts to recover the "lost Marines of Tarawa," Bonnyman's grandson, Clay Bonnyman Evans, was privileged to join the efforts of History Flight, Inc., a non-governmental organization dedicated to finding and repatriating the remains of lost U.S. service personnel. In Bones of My Grandfather, Evans tells the remarkable story of History Flight's mission to recover hundreds of Marines long lost to history in the sands of Tarawa. Even as the organization begins to unearth the physical past on a remote Pacific island, Evans begins his own quest to unearth the reclaim the true history of his grandfather, a charismatic, complicated hero whose life had been whitewashed, sanitized and diminished over the decades.

On May 29, 2015, Evans knelt beside a History Flight archaeologist as she uncovered the long-lost, well-preserved remains of his grandfather. And more than seventy years after giving his life for his country, a World War II hero finally came home.

- (Originally broadcast 06/21/19) - 

All Stations: Fri, May 22, 12 pm | News Stations: Sun, May 24, 4 pm

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Dr. Walter Edgar has two programs on South Carolina Public Radio: Walter Edgar's Journal, and South Carolina from A to Z. Dr. Edgar received his B.A. degree from Davidson College in 1965 and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1969. After two years in the army (including a tour of duty in Vietnam), he returned to USC as a post-doctoral fellow of the National Archives, assigned to the Papers of Henry Laurens.