Texas heroes at Tarawa

November 20th, 1943

On this day in 1943, two marines from Texas earned the Medal of Honor for their heroic actions in the desperate battle for the Pacific island of Tarawa. Staff Sgt. William James Bordelon of San Antonio landed under enemy fire that killed all but four men in his tractor and remained in action even after he was hit. He provided cover fire for a group scaling a seawall and, disregarding his own injuries, went to the aid of two wounded men in the water. He was killed while singelhandedly attacking a Japanese machine-gun position. First Lt. William Dean Hawkins of El Paso, commanding a scout-sniper platoon, moved forward under heavy enemy fire and neutralized the enemy troops assaulting the main beach positions. During that day and night he repeatedly risked his life to direct and lead attacks on pillboxes and enemy installations. At dawn on the twenty-first he resumed the dangerous task of clearing the beachhead of enemy resistance. Though seriously wounded in the chest, he refused to withdraw and continued to carry the fight to the enemy until mortally wounded by a burst of enemy shell fire. After the island was secured, the airstrip was named Hawkins Field in his honor. Yet another notable Texan, Cpl. Criss Cole of Avery, was also in the battle, and was blinded by a Japanese grenade. He returned to Texas and became a state legislator, judge, and advocate for the blind. In 1969 the legislature voted to name Austin's rehabilitation center for the blind in his honor.

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Texas heroes at Tarawa

November 20th, 1943

On this day in 1943, two marines from Texas earned the Medal of Honor for their heroic actions in the desperate battle for the Pacific island of Tarawa. Staff Sgt. William James Bordelon of San Antonio landed under enemy fire that killed all but four men in his tractor and remained in action even after he was hit. He provided cover fire for a group scaling a seawall and, disregarding his own injuries, went to the aid of two wounded men in the water. He was killed while singelhandedly attacking a Japanese machine-gun position. First Lt. William Dean Hawkins of El Paso, commanding a scout-sniper platoon, moved forward under heavy enemy fire and neutralized the enemy troops assaulting the main beach positions. During that day and night he repeatedly risked his life to direct and lead attacks on pillboxes and enemy installations. At dawn on the twenty-first he resumed the dangerous task of clearing the beachhead of enemy resistance. Though seriously wounded in the chest, he refused to withdraw and continued to carry the fight to the enemy until mortally wounded by a burst of enemy shell fire. After the island was secured, the airstrip was named Hawkins Field in his honor. Yet another notable Texan, Cpl. Criss Cole of Avery, was also in the battle, and was blinded by a Japanese grenade. He returned to Texas and became a state legislator, judge, and advocate for the blind. In 1969 the legislature voted to name Austin's rehabilitation center for the blind in his honor.

«   Previous Next   »

Related Handbook of Texas Articles

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Share the Texas Day by Day

Get a Piece of Texas History in Your Inbox

With more than 27,000 articles about Texas history, the Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas is the largest online encyclopedia about all things Texas. Now you can celebrate the history of Texas every day by activating your free subscription to Texas Day by Day. Each day's email tells a little bit more of the story of Texas and links to our collection of more than 27,000 articles. It's one of the best ways to learn more about Texas history — in only 15 minutes a day!

Activate your free subscription to Texas Day by Day and you can:

  • Explore Texas history each day in bite-sized pieces conveniently delivered to your inbox each morning
  • Astound your friends with your Texas history prowess
  • Get in-depth looks at some of the overlooked events and landmarks in Texas history
  • Discover new places to explore in the Lone Star State
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