Public invited to attend memorial lying-in-honor and funeral Saturday and Sunday
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The remains of 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., arrived in Knoxville from Hawaii Sept. 25, bringing his family’s 72-year odyssey closer to conclusion.
Bonnyman was killed on Nov. 22, 1943 in the Battle of Tarawa. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His remains, along with those of hundreds of other Marines, were lost after they were buried on Tarawa following the fighting.
His parents, Alexander Bonnyman, Sr. and Frances Berry Bonnyman, spent years trying to learn the location of their son’s remains and have them brought to Knoxville, where he grew up. Others, including his younger brother, George Gordon Bonnyman, and daughter Frances Bonnyman Evans, continued the quest for decades without success.
“I do want my son’s remains returned to Knoxville, Tennessee. … If any further or additional request or advice is needed to insure (sic) his remains being returned to me here, I shall appreciate your writing to me,” Alexander Bonnyman, Sr. wrote to Marine Commandant Lt. Gen. A.A. Vandegrift in 1944.
An American Graves Commission Service mission to Tarawa in 1946 was unable to locate more than half of the Marines and U.S. Navy personnel killed in the battle. In 1949, the Bonnyman family was informed that Lt. Bonnyman’s remains were “unrecoverable.”
In 2007, Mark Noah, founder of History Flight, Inc., began researching the long-lost graves of Tarawa. The Florida-based nonprofit group began sending teams of field researchers to the island of Betio, where the battle took place, in 2008., An archaeological team led by Kristen N. Baker located the site of Cemetery 27, where Bonnyman and 39 other Marines were recorded as having been buried, in March. When the team concluded its work in July, it had recovered 35 sets of remains from the island.
Alexander Bonnyman, Jr. was born May 2, 1910 in Atlanta. He was raised in Knoxville and attended Princeton University. He was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico and operating a copper mine near Santa Rosa when he joined the Marine Corps Reserve in July 1942.
Lt. Bonnyman’s casketed remains will lie in honor at the East Tennessee Veteran’s Memorial, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, Tenn. from 2:30 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, with a short memorial service from 2:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Lt. Bonnyman will be buried in a family service with full military honors and a flyover at noon, Sunday, Sept. 27 at Berry Highland Memorial Cemetery, 5315 Kingston Pike in Knoxville.