WILLIAN DEAN HAWKINS (1914 ~ 1943). Medal of Honor Recipient William "Hawk" Hawkins was born at Fort Scott, Kansas, on April 19, 1914, and shortly afterward his family moved to El Paso, Texas. Hawkins skipped the fifth grade and graduated from high school at age sixteen. He attended the Texas School of Mines (University of Texas at El Paso) on a scholarship. He was opposed to war, but joined the Marine Corps shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Hawkins was commissioned a First Lieutenant after the campaign in the Solomon Islands. On November 20, 1943, Hawkins commanded the 2nd Scout-Sniper Platoon, which was the first to land on Betio Island, in the Tarawa Atoll. Hawkins was the first on the beach, clearing a pier of enemy snipers to protect Marines landing on the main beaches. Throughout the day and night Hawkins led attacks on enemy pillboxes and fortifications with grenades and demolition charges.
At dawn the following day, Hawkins led an assault on an enemy position protected by five machine guns by slowly crawling forward until he was able to fire point-blank into the pillbox, finally destroying it with grenades. He was seriously injured in the chest during this action, but continued fighting; destroying three more enemy pillboxes before an exploding shell killed him. For his bravery over the course of November 20 and 21, Hawkins was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
After Betio Island was secured, the airstrip constructed there was named in his honor. The USS William Dean Hawkins, a destroyer, was also named in his honor.
Bibliography: "Above and Beyond: The Medal of Honor in Texas," Capitol Visitors Center, State Preservation Board of Texas. The Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, University of Texas, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/HH/fhalr.html, September 26, 2005. Kukral, L.C. "The Battle of Tarawa," Navy and Marine Corps World War II Commemorative Committee, http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/wwii/facts/tarawa.txt, October 11, 2005.