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Texas heroes at Tarawa

November
20
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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