(WBIR) - The remains of East Tennessee Marine and Medal of Honor recipient Alexander "Sandy" Bonnyman Jr. have been recovered on the remote Pacific island of Tarawa.
"It was 90-something degrees on that island and I had shivers, just trying to hold back tears," Bonnyman's grandson told 10News about witnessing the find.
Service and Sacrifice: East Tennessee Medal of Honor: Lt. Alexander Bonnyman
First Lt. Bonnyman was killed in battle on Nov. 22, 1943, during an assault on Japanese forces, "…fearlessly exposing himself to the merciless slash of hostile fire as he stormed the formidable bastion," reads part of his Medal of Honor Citation. America's highest honor for valor in combat was awarded posthumously after witnesses say forces under Bonnyman's leadership and courage beat back the enemy and saved fellow Marines. Rare black and white video recorded some of his heroic final moments.
"He made the right choices and the right decisions and ended up giving his life for his country," said Virgil Young, the former commandant of the Bonnyman Marine Corps League detachment in Knoxville.
Namesake: Alexander Bonnyman Memorial Bridge
Given the massive death toll on the island Bonnyman was buried with dozens of other Marines in the sands of Tarawa. But his burial site has been shrouded in mystery for decades. That was until May 28 when Bonnyman's grandson Clay Evans and a team of researches from the non-profit group History Flight unearthed Bonnyman's remains in a trench grave with a few dozen other Marines.
"It just blew me away," said Evans. He and the team managed to identify Bonnyman through dental records, including gold fillings. They also found a cigarette lighter and what appears to be a portion of his dog tag. DNA records will help erase any remaining doubts but Evans says he is certain the remains belong to his grandfather. A plan is now in the works to return Bonnyman's remains to East Tennessee where he will be buried in a family plot perhaps sometime in late September.
"This is the ground that formed him and this is where he'll be laid to rest," Young said.