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 November 20, 1943.
William James Bordelon was born on Christmas Day, December 25, 1920 at San Antonio, Texas, a son of William Jennings Bordelon and Carmen Josephine Bordelon. He attended the local schools and was graduated from Central Catholic High School where he had become a cadet officer in the Reserve Officers Training Corps.
On December 10, 1941, he enlisted in the Marine Corps for a period of four years. Private Bordelon was converted from a civilian to a Marine at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. In "boot camp" he fired a score of 214 with the service rifle (Springfield) to become a Marine "marksman".
Completing his training with the 5th Recruit Battalion, the Texan was transferred to the Casual Company for a brief period and then to Company D, 2d Engineer Battalion of the 2d Marine Division, then stationed at San Diego.
Promotions in the engineers came rapidly for Bordelon. Advanced to private first class February 5, 1942, he was promoted to corporal less than six weeks later, on March 14. His appointment to sergeant took effect on July 10 of the same year.
Transferred to Company C, 18th Marines in September, September Bordelon moved over to Company L, 3d Battalion, 6th Marines the next month, and was back with C Company in November.
It was October 20, 1942 that the sergeant and his company embarked at San Diego and sailed into the Pacific. Arriving at Wellington, New Zealand, on November 9, the 2d Division remained there for about six weeks before "shoving off" again.
On December 24, 1942 he embarked on board the USS PRESIDENT HAYES, which took him to Guadalcanal. The sergeant's organization was on that still-enemy-infested island from January 4 to February 19, 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. Sergeant Bordelon was promoted to staff sergeant on May 13, 1943. He was transferred to Company A, 1st Battalion 18th Marines on October 10, and one week later, again went aboard ship.
This was the USS ZEILIN and she didn't leave Wellington until November 1. 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, November 20, 1943.
During the subsequent landing, Sergeant Bordelon, was one of four men from his tractor to reach the beach alive. Sergeant Bordelon and a buddy, Sergeant 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, Sergeant Bordelon personally put two pillboxes out of action. Assaulting a third enemy position, the sergeant was hit by enemy machine gun fire just as one of his charges left his hand. The backlash from the charge also wounded 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, Sergeant 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, Sergeant 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.
The sergeant, 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 next 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 to the U.S. Army Mausoleum at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
The Medal of Honor, posthumously awarded to Sergeant Bordelon by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was presented to his mother at a giant, impressive ceremony at Alamo Stadium in San Antonio on June 17, 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. Major 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 Marines mother.
In October 1995, his body was returned to San Antonio and lay in state in the Alamo on Nov. 19, 1995.
On Nov. 20, 1995, the 52nd anniversary of his death, this hometown hero received a hero's funeral Mass in Mission San Jose, the church where he had served as an altar-boy during his childhood, and was buried with full military honors in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery where he rests in peace today, just about two miles from the William J. Bordelon Navy-Marine Corps Reserve Training Center (so named in April 1994.) The funeral Mass was celebrated by Father George T. Montague, the youngest brother of Pfc. Charles Montague, USMC, who like Bordelon was killed at Tarawa on Nov. 20, 1943.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Sergeant Bordelon also was awarded (posthumously) the Purple Heart; Presidential Unit Citation; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.