1st Lt. William D. Hawkins, Medal of Honor, WWII, US Marine Corps (1914-1943)
1st Lt. William D. Hawkins, Medal of Honor, WWII, US Marine Corps (1914-1943)

BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D.        Born on April 18, 1914 in Fort Scott, Kansas, William Deane Hawkins had a tough start in life.  When he was a young baby, a neighbor accidently upset a container of boiling water over him.  Not only was he scarred for life but it would be a year of hard work by his mother before he was able to cure the muscular damage caused by the boiling water, by massage, and he could walk again.

When he was five, the family moved to El Paso, Texas.  His father died when he was eight.  In order to support her family, his mother went to work as a secretary to a high school principal and, later, as a teacher in the El Paso Technical Institute.

Hawkins was disciplined and had a good mind. He was a good student.  He was able to skip fifth grade and graduated from El Paso High School when he was 16.  He was awarded a scholarship to the Texas College of Mines, where he studied engineering. Despite having a scholarship, money was tight. During summer vacations, he delivered magazines and sold newspapers, and worked as a bellhop, ranch hand, and railroad laborer.

At 23 he was working as an engineer in Tacoma, Washington, when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. 

Hawkins attempted to join the Army and the Navy Air Corps, but was rejected because of the scarring from his accident in his childhood.  On January 5, 1942, he was accepted into the Marine Corps and was assigned to the 7th Recruit Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego California.

After his recruit training his first duty assignment was with the 2nd Marines, 2nd Marine Division where he completed Scout Snipers‘ School at Camp Elliott, San Diego, and on July 1, 1942 embarked on board the USS Crescent City for the Pacific area.

A private first class when he went overseas, Hawkins quickly moved through the ranks and by  November 17, 1942, he was commissioned a second lieutenant while taking part in the Guadalcanal campaign in the Battle for the Solomons. On June 1, 1943, he was promoted to first lieutenant.

Less than six months later, while leading his scout-sniper platoon during the attack on Betio Island, he was killed in action. During the two-day assault, 1st Lt. Hawkins led attacks on pill boxes and installations. He on his own initiated an assault on a hostile position fortified by five enemy machine guns.  Hawkins, with his usual grit and resolve, refused to withdraw even after being seriously wounded.  He succeeded in destroying three more pill boxes before he was mortally wounded on November 21, 1943.

For his actions above and beyond the call of duty, 1st Lt. Hawkins posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

Camp HM Smith in Honolulu, Hawaii has a small area of land identified as Camp Hawkins, named after 1st Lt. William Deane Hawkins. The site is located at the extreme NE portion of Camp Smith and now sits within a secured perimeter fence line.

Medal of Honor citation

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

FIRST LIEUTENANT WILLIAM D. HAWKINS
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS RESERVE

for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For valorous and gallant conduct above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of a Scout Sniper Platoon attached to the Second Marines, Second Marine Division, in action against Japanese-held Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, November 20 and 21, 1943. The first to disembark from the jeep lighter, First lieutenant Hawkins unhesitatingly moved forward under heavy enemy fire at the end of the Betio pier, neutralizing emplacements in coverage of troops assaulting the main breach positions. Fearlessly leading his men on to join the forces fighting desperately to gain a beachhead, he repeatedly risked his life throughout the day and night to direct and lead attacks on pill boxes and installations with grenades and demolition. At dawn on the following day, First Lieutenant Hawkins returned to the dangerous mission of clearing the limited beachhead of Japanese resistance, personally initiating an assault on a hostile fortified by five enemy machine guns and, crawling forward in the face of withering fire, boldly fired point-blank into the loopholes and completed the destruction with grenades. Refusing to withdraw after being seriously wounded in the chest during this skirmish, First Lieutenant Hawkins steadfastly carried the fight to the enemy, destroying three more pill boxes before he was caught in a burst of Japanese shell fire and mortally wounded. His relentless fighting spirit in the face of formidable opposition and his exceptionally daring tactics were an inspiration to his comrades during the most crucial phase of the battle and reflect the highest credit upon the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

/S/ FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

In September 1944, the Medal of Honor was presented to Hawkins’ mother by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a White House ceremony.

1st Lt. William Deane Hawkins’ remains were eventually interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii in section B grave 646.

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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