80 years ago The Battle of Tarawa was a pivotal engagement between American and Japanese forces in the Pacific theater. The atoll, a tiny but heavily fortified island, was a critical strategic point that held immense significance for both sides. The ferocity of the battle and the heavily fortified Japanese positions made it one of the most challenging and costly confrontations in the Pacific campaign.
Amidst the chaos and carnage of the battle, 1st Lt. William Deane Hawkins emerged as a symbol of courage and leadership. On November 20, 1943, as his company landed on Red Beach 3, they faced withering enemy fire and intense resistance. Undeterred by the hail of bullets and the harrowing conditions, Hawkins fearlessly led his men forward, determined to breach the formidable Japanese defenses.
In the heat of the battle, Hawkins single-handedly attacked and neutralized a series of heavily fortified enemy positions. Armed with a submachine gun and grenades, he moved from one pillbox to another, eliminating enemy soldiers with unmatched precision. His audacious assault not only saved the lives of many of his comrades but also disrupted the Japanese defense, creating a crucial opening for the advancing American forces.
Hawkins was seriously wounded five times during the battle, including in the chest during a last assault. However, he refused treatment and kept fighting. Hawkins destroyed three more pillboxes before he was severely injured by Japanese shellfire. His fearless actions and indomitable spirit rallied the Marines, turning the tide of the battle in their favor. Hawkins’ leadership under fire and his selfless dedication to the mission exemplified the highest ideals of the United States Marine Corps.
“It’s not often that you can credit a first lieutenant with winning a battle, but Hawkins came as near to it as any may could,” said assault commander Col. David M. Shoup after the battle. “He was truly an inspiration.”
In recognition of his exceptional bravery and leadership, 1st Lt. William Deane Hawkins was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation highlighted his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty,” a testament to the extraordinary sacrifice he made for his country.