Ken Harbaugh tells the stories of service members who have distinguished themselves through an act of valor. These stories feature recipients from the Civil War to present day, including a few who were originally overlooked for the medal.
One of four Marines on his tractor to make it to the beach alive, SSgt. Bordelon leveled four enemy machine gun bunkers using improvised explosives and saved wounded Marines. Severely wounded himself, Bordelon covered Marines as they landed before being killed by machine gun fire. Bordelon’s actions helped secure the beachhead and he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.
Staff Sergeant William J. Bordelon was born on December 25th, 1920 in San Antonio, Texas. He graduated from Central Catholic Marianist High School in San Antonio, where he was a member of the JROTC.
Three days after Pearl Harbor, when he was 21, Bordelon enlisted in the Marine Corps. After completing recruit training, Bordelon was assigned to 2nd Engineer Battalion, 2d Marine Division in San Diego, before attaching to 18th Marine Regiment, a combat engineer unit. There he served in the assault engineer platoon. He advanced quickly, and was promoted to Sergeant on July 10th, 1942.
Later that year Bordelon went to Guadalcanal, then New Zealand, where the 18th Marines prepared for the next amphibious landing.
On November 20th, 1943, Staff Sergeant Bordelon and his unit took part in 2d Marine Division’s amphibious invasion of the Japanese-occupied atoll of Tarawa. Bordelon landed under heavy enemy fire that killed all but four men in his tractor. Bordelon and another Marine were caught in wire as they landed, but escaped under fire. Protected by a seawall but losing most of their demolition equipment, Bordelon made some explosive charges and destroyed two enemy bunkers. As Bordelon was attacking a third bunker, he was wounded by an enemy machine gun and the charge he was holding exploded. Using his last two charges, he destroyed the third bunker. After his men applied a hasty tourniquet to his left arm, he suppressed the enemy with his rifle as his Marines scaled the seawall. Bordelon then saw one of his engineers wounded and drowning, and rescued him and another wounded Marine despite being shot in the back by an enemy machine gun. When he returned to the beachhead, he made another explosive charge and attacked a fourth enemy bunker alone, but was killed by enemy fire just as he destroyed the bunker. His actions were vital to securing the beach and allowing the U.S. forces to seize the island.
In June 1944, Bordelon was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His parents received the award on his behalf at Alamo Stadium. His other awards include the Purple Heart, the Navy Presidential Unit Citation, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. He was one of three Marines from his high school to be killed on Tarawa.
In 1945, the Navy named a destroyer in his honor. Bordelon is memorialized in the San Antonio area, with a Veterans of Foreign Wars post and a highway section named after him.
Bordelon was initially buried on Betio Island, part of the Tarawa Atoll, then moved to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. On November 20th, 1995, he was reinterred at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.
The Medal of Honor Podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts.
Nathan Corson is our producer and engineer, León Pescador is our script writer, Declan Rohrs is our script editor and recording engineer, and I’m Ken Harbaugh.
We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, got to mohmuseum.org. Thanks for listening.