Seven decades after the end of World War II, the remains of a soldier with ties to Rome are being returned to the U.S. for a proper burial.
Marine 1st Lt. Alexander “Sandy” Bonnyman Jr. died in the Nov. 22, 1943, battle of Tarawa.
Bonnyman took out more than a hundred Japanese soldiers who were responsible for the death of U.S. troops before he was killed.
The Marine was the son of Martha Berry’s youngest sister Frances Berry Bonnyman. He was the uncle of current Romans Al Bonnyman and Anita Berry Lowden.
Al Bonnyman said he was aware that his uncle’s grandson, Clay Bonnyman Evans, had been to Tarawa several times along with the History Flight teams, so it was not a surprise to him that the remains had finally been recovered.
“It was not a probability, but it was something that people had been working on for several years and it seemed like it would be a good possibility that it would happen,” Al Bonnyman said.
Sandy Bonnyman posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his bravery for crawling through enemy fire not once, but twice to toss munitions into a Japanese bunker.
After his second assault on the bunker, the Marine was killed in an exchange of gunfire with Japanese soldiers who were scrambling out of the bunker.
Bonnyman and dozens of his fellow Marines were buried in a trench on the beach known as Cemetery 27.
A nonprofit organization called History Flight, dedicated to locating and recovering the remains of U.S. Marines, found the trench in 2011 but only started the recovery effort this past March. Evans said the excavation was delayed for a number of reasons including the fact the site was on private property.
After the remains were found he hopped on a plane and was at Betio three days later.
“We knew that if we found very distinctive gold dental work particularly in that spot, it almost certainly would be Lt. Bonnyman,” Evans said. “I dropped the camera, I was just floored and said hold on, hold on. I took a few deep breaths and wiped my eyes.”
In all, more than 120 remains have been found.
“Each one of those stories is a different story, a different family, a different tragedy and a real loss,” Al Bonnyman said.
The remains have been sent to Hawaii for additional forensic work. A funeral will be held in Knoxville on Sept. 27.