78 – Bones of My Grandfather

US Marine, Lt Alexander Bonnyman landed on Tarawa in December 1942. He was mortally wounded leading an assault on a Japanese bunker, which was key to defense of the island, and act for which he would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor.

Bones of My Grandfather: Reclaiming a Lost Hero of World War II
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“War, reclamation, and what Tim O'Brien called "the Lives of the Dead" are eternal literary themes for men. Clay Bonnyman Evans has honored that lineage with this masterful melding of military history and personal quest.”―Ron Powers, co-author of New York Times #1 bestsellers Flags of Our Fathers angs of Our Fathers and True Compass, along with No One Cares About Crazy People and others

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 of his grandfather. And more than seventy years after giving his life for his country, a World War II hero finally came home.

In this episode of the podcast I talk to his grandson, Clay Bonnyman Evans about the events surrounding his death and about how his grandfather’s remains, along with hundreds of others who had been hastily buried, were lost after the war.