I spend a lot of time at the post office. My online business generates a fair amount of international shipping and those packages go to the counter rather than the loading dock. Underneath the glass on the post office railing is a special cancellation commemorating 1st Lt. William Deane “Hawk” Hawkins. As an officer in the Marine Corps Reserve, he won America’s highest military award, the Congress Medal of Honor.
April 19, 2012, would have been Hawkins’ 98th birthday. Born in Fort Scott, Kansas in 1914, circumstances made Hawkins an unlikely hero. A severe burn accident as a baby left him badly scarred and disqualified him from serving in the Army and the Navy Air Corps. He persevered and was accepted into the Marine Corps Reserve after Pearl Harbor and deployed to the Pacific on July 1, 1942.
Evidently, the Marines didn’t see his scars as an impediment. A PFC when he left the states, he quickly rose through the ranks. On June 1, 1943, he was promoted to first lieutenant.
His ultimate sacrifice came less than six months later on Betio Island during the Tarawa campaign. The Saturday Evening Post wrote of Hawkins, “He was slightly wounded by shrapnel as he came ashore in the first wave, but the furthest thing from him mind was to be evacuated. . . During a day and a half he personally cleaned out six Jap machine gun nests, sometimes standing on top of a track and firing point blank at four or five men who fired back at him from behind blockhouses. Lt. Hawkins was wounded a second time, but he still refused to retire. To say that his conduct was worthy of the highest traditions of the Marine Corps is like saying the Empire State Building is moderately high.”
Hawkins’ Medal of Honor was posthumously awarded for heroism and sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty. The citation reads, “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.” William Deane Hawkins rests in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Hawkins represents the best of “The Greatest Generation” that are leaving us too quickly. His refusal to let his childhood scars limit him, his determination to protect his country from its gravest threat, and his selfless gallantry are worth remembering and honoring. Happy Birthday Lieutenant Hawkins.