Staff Sgt. William James Bordelon, Medal of Honor

Staff Sgt. William James Bordelon, Medal of HonorBY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D.   On this the 70th anniversary of the taking of Tarawa I thought it would be appropriate to feature one of the heroes. In November 1943, U.S. Army troops took the island of Makin, while the Marines engaged an entrenched and determined enemy on Betio. The brutal, 76-hour struggle for Tarawa resulted in more than 3,000 Marine casualties and some 5,000 Japanese dead. The hard-fought battle was the first full-scale amphibious assault against a fortified target and taught valuable lessons for the rest of the American island-hopping campaign to defeat Japan.

William Bordelon was born on December 25, 1920 in San Antonio, Texas. He graduated from Central Catholic Marianist High School in San Antonio in 1938, where he was the JROTC battalion major in 1937-1938. He was one of three of the high school’s graduates who died on Tarawa.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps on December 10, 1941, and completed his recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California. He joined the 2nd Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, in San Diego. He was rapidly promoted — to private first class on February 5, 1942; to corporal on March 14, 1942; and to sergeant on July 10, 1942.

He was killed in action, at age 22, while serving as a member of an assault engineer platoon of the First Battalion, Eighteenth Marines, tactically attached to the 2nd Marine Division against the Japanese in the Battle of Tarawa, in the Islands on November 20, 1943.

Landing in the assault waves under withering enemy fire which killed all but four of the men in his tractor, S/Sgt. Bordelon hurriedly made demolition charges and personally put two pillboxes out of action. Hit by enemy machinegun fire just as a charge exploded in his hand while assaulting a third position, he courageously remained in action and, although out of demolition, provided himself with a rifle and furnished fire coverage for a group of men scaling the seawall. Disregarding his own serious condition, he unhesitatingly went to the aid of one of his demolition men, wounded and calling for help in the water, rescuing this man and another who had been hit by enemy fire while attempting to make the rescue. Still refusing first aid for himself, he again made up demolition charges and single-handedly assaulted a fourth Japanese machinegun position but was instantly killed when caught in a final burst of fire from the enemy. S/Sgt. Bordelon’s great personal valor during a critical phase of securing the limited beachhead was a contributing factor in the ultimate occupation of the island, and his heroic determination throughout three days of violent battle reflects the highest credit upon the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

He single-handedly destroyed four enemy pillboxes before he was fatally wounded.

Bordelon was awarded the Medal of Honor for his “valorous and gallant conduct above and beyond the call of duty” in leading his men while seriously wounded. He was the first U.S. Marine from Texas to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in World War II. Four Medals of Honor were awarded for actions on Tarawa, three were posthumous awards, and the fourth was awarded to then-Colonel David M. Shoup, who became the 22nd Commandant of the Marine Corps

Staff Sergeant William James Bordelon was originally buried in the Lone Palm Cemetery on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, then later interred in Honolulu, Hawaii at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.  At the request of his brother, Bordelon’s body was moved from Hawaii to Texas in 1995. After lying in state at the Alamo, Bordelon’s body was re-interred in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, Section AI Site 558 San Antonio, Texas on the 52nd anniversary of his death.

 

 

Medal of Honor citation

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to

STAFF SERGEANT WILLIAM J. BORDELON
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For valorous and gallant conduct above and beyond the call of duty as a member of an Assault Engineer Platoon of the First Battalion, Eighteenth Marines, tactically attached to the Second Marines, Second Marine Division, in action against the Japanese-held Atoll of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands on November 20, 1943. Landing in the assault waves under withering enemy fire which killed all but four of the men in his tractor, Staff Sergeant Bordelon hurriedly made demolition charges and personally put two pill boxes out of action. Hit by enemy machine-gun fire just as a charge exploded in his hand while assaulting a third position, he courageously remained in action and, although out of demolition, provided himself with a rifle and furnished fire coverage for a group of men scaling the seawall. Disregarding his own serious condition, he unhesitatingly went to the aid of one of his demolition men, wounded and calling for help in the water, rescuing this man and another who had been hit by enemy fire while attempting to make the rescue. Still refusing first aid for himself, he again made up demolition charges and single-handedly assaulted a fourth Japanese machine-gun position but was instantly killed when caught in a final burst of fire from the enemy. Staff Sergeant Bordelon’s great personal valor during a critical phase of securing the limited beachhead was a contributing factor in the ultimate occupation of the island and his heroic determination reflects the highest credit upon the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

/S/FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

 
 

The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.

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