The Marine Corps Medal of Honor Recipients
Featuring Marine Medal of Honor Recipients From WWII-Korea-Viet Nam And Iraqi Freedom
WILLIAM J. BORDELON
United States Marine Corps
For valorous and gallant conduct above and beyond the call of duty as a member of an Assualt Engineer Platoon of the First Battalion, Eighteenth Marines, tactically attached to the Second Marines, Second Marine Division, 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, rescueing 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.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
President of the United States
Staff Sergeant William James Bordelon of San Antonio, Texas, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously "For valorous and gallant conduct above and beyond the call of duty as a member of an Assault Engineer Platoon of the 1st Battalion, 18th Marines, tactically attached to the 2d Marines, 2d Marine Division, in action against the Japanese-held Atoll of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands on 20 November 1943."
William James Bordelon was born on Christmas Day, 25 December 1920 in San Antonio, Texas. He attended the local schools and graduated from Central Catholic High School where he had become a cadet officer in the Reserve Officers Training Corps.
On 10 December 1941, he enlisted in the Marine Corps for a period of four years. Pvt Bordelon was sent to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California. In recruit training he fired a score of 214 with the service rifle (Springfield) to become a Marine "marksman."
Completing his training with the 5th Recruit Battalion, he was transferred to Casual Company for a brief period and then to Company D, 2d Engineer Battalion, 2d Marine Division, then stationed in San Diego.
Promotions in the engineers came rapidly for him. Advanced to private first class 5 February 1942, he was promoted to corporal less than six weeks later, on 14 March. His appointment to sergeant took effect on 10 July of the same year.
Transferred to Company C, 18th Marines in September, Sgt Bordelon moved over to Company L, 3d Battalion, 6th Marines the next month, and was back with Company C in November.
It was 20 October 1942 his company embarked at San Diego and sailed into the Pacific. Arriving in Wellington, New Zealand, on 9 November the 2d Division remained there for about six weeks before "shoving off" again.
On 24 December 1942 he embarked on board the USS President Hayes, which took him to Guadalcanal. Sgt Bordelon's organization was on that enemy-infested island from 4 January to 19 February 1943, and then returned to New Zealand via the USS President Adams.
The next few months were spent in reorganizing, recreation, and preparation of the next campaign. He was promoted to staff sergeant on 13 May 1943. He was transferred to Company A, 1st Battalion 18th Marines on 10 October and one week later, again went aboard ship.
This time it was the USS Zeilin and she didn't leave Wellington until 1 November. Making one stop at Efate, New Hebrides, on the 7th and sailing again on the 18th, the Zeilin arrived off grim, enemy-held Tarawa on D-Day, 20 November 1943.
During the subsequent landing, SSgt Bordelon was one of four men from his tractor to reach the beach alive. SSgt Bordelon and a buddy, Sgt Elden Beers, went over the tractor's side together and were immediately caught in the barded wire entanglement. Extricating themselves under heavy fire, the two Marines and two others from their craft managed to hit the beach and secure a little protection behind a four-foot-high seawall.
In reaching the beach, the Marines lost all their equipment except a few small arms and two packages of dynamite. Quickly forming the dynamite into demolition charges, SSgt Bordelon personally put two pillboxes out of action. Assaulting a third enemy position, he was hit by enemy machine gun fire just as one of his charges left his hand.The backlash from the charge also wounded SSgt Bordelon and he had to be bandaged by two of his companions.
The small band behind the seawall was still pinned to the sand by fire, which was coming from a machine gun nest 200 yards up the beach. Gathering up the last two demolition charges, SSgt Bordelon started to crawl toward the enemy gun pit. He succeeded in destroying the position but in doing so was again shot through the left arm. He returned and asked his men to apply a tourniquet.
Taking a rifle, SSgt Bordelon provided fire coverage for a group attempting to scale the wall. In the meantime, his companions had decided to try to rescue a group of wounded Marines who were floundering around in the water offshore. On their first move another enemy machine gun pinned them down.
Staff Sergeant Bordelon, seeing his companion wounded, started off in search of a corpsman, but was unable to locate one. Instead he stumbled on a rifle grenade and immediately returned to take action against enemy machine gunners who were holding up the rescue of the wounded.
As he started his next single-handed attack, his attention was caught by a badly wounded Marine whom the surf had thrown upon the beach. Immediately going to the aid of the Marine, he was caught in the shoulder by a burst of enemy fire.
Although he was suffering from multiple wounds, he lunged toward the enemy gun and employing the rifle grenade, destroyed the nest before he fell dead from a final burst of enemy fire.
The Marine hero was originally buried in Lone Palm Cemetery on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll. He later was moved and laid to rest in Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio, Texas.
The Medal of Honor, posthumously awarded to SSgt Bordelon by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was presented to his mother at a large, impressive ceremony at Alamo Stadium in San Antonio on 17 June 1944. That week was designated "Statewide Bordelon Week" throughout Texas by the state's governor. The 17th was "Bordelon Memorial Day" in San Antonio by mayoral proclamation. Maj Donald M. Taft, Officer in Charge of the San Antonio Marine Recruiting office presented the first Medal of Honor to be awarded a Texan during World War II, to the late Marine's mother.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, SSgt Bordelon also was awarded (posthumously) the Purple Heart; Presidential Unit Citation; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.
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