Hawkins, William Dean (1914–1943)

By: Art Leatherwood

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1995

William Dean (Hawk) Hawkins, Medal of Honor recipient, was born at Fort Scott, Kansas, to Mrs. C. Jane Hawkins, on April 19, 1914. He attended Lamar and Alta Vista schools in El Paso, skipped the fifth grade, and graduated from El Paso High School at sixteen. He attended Texas School of Mines on a scholarship. Though he claimed to be opposed to war, he enlisted in the marine corps shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was commissioned after the campaign for the Solomon Islands. On November 20 and 21, 1943, First Lieutenant Hawkins was commanding officer of a scout-sniper platoon attached to the assault regiment in action against the Japanese-held island of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands. The first to disembark from the jeep lighter, he unhesitatingly moved forward under heavy enemy fire and neutralized the Betio Pier and 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. He personally initiated an assault on a position fortified by five machine guns. Crawling forward under heavy enemy fire he fired point-blank into loopholes and completed the destruction with hand grenades. 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. His exceptionally daring action inspired his comrades during the most crucial phase of the battle for Tarawa. After the island was secured, the airstrip was named Hawkins Field in his honor. A destroyer, the USS William Dean Hawkins, was also named in his honor.

Robert Sherrod, Tarawa: The Story of a Battle (Fredericksburg, Texas: Admiral Nimitz Foundation, 1973). Committee on Veterans' Affairs, United States Senate, Medal of Honor Recipients, 1863–1973 (Washington: GPO, 1973).
Time Periods:
  • World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Art Leatherwood, “Hawkins, William Dean,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/hawkins-william-dean.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995