Memorial Day isn’t the only day of the year we should pay our respects to our country’s fallen soldiers. But it is a day especially dedicated to their courage and honor, and a day meant to remind us of their sacrifices in the line of duty that have helped preserve the safety and security of our country.
Of the thousands of New Mexican soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, guardians, and coast guardsmen who dedicated their lives in service of our own, twenty have received the highest and most prestigious military recognition, the Medal of Honor. Nine of them were awarded the medal posthumously, having died heroically. Below are some of their stories.
May they rest in peace.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Bonnyman's family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, when he was a baby. He studied engineering and played football at Princeton, but dropped out his sophomore year and signed up for the Army Air Corps. He was discharged three months later for lack of proficient flying skills, though his character was rated as "excellent." He worked in the coal industry before moving to New Mexico, where he started his own copper mining business.
At the outbreak of the war, Bonnyman enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as a private. On November 22, 1943, Bonnyman led a team of 21 Marines in an assault on a bombproof shelter held by Japanese soldiers on the atoll Tarawa. After an intense exchange of fire, his team was forced to withdraw to replenish its supply of ammunition and grenades. Bonnyman then continued his attack and gained the top of the structure, flushing out over one hundred of its occupants into the open. When the enemy returned fire, Bonnyman stood on the forward edge of the position and killed three of the attackers but was killed himself as he urged his men forward. Thirteen of Bonnyman’s original 21 Marines survived.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1947. Frances, his 12-year-old daughter, accepted the award on his behalf. His remains were buried with those of 36 other men at Betio Atoll. They were exhumed in 2015 and repatriated to the United States. He was interred with full Military Honors at West Knoxville's Berry Highland Memorial Cemetery in Tennessee, with a memorial marker at Santa Fe National Cemetery.
Daniel Fernández was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on June 30, 1944, and grew up on a farm in Los Lunas. The oldest of four children, he loved to ride horses as a boy.
He joined the Army in 1962. By 1966, he was on his second tour of duty in Vietnam, having volunteered to serve again, this time as a specialist four in Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment (Mechanized), 25th Infantry Division. On February 18, 1966, Fernández and his patrol were ambushed by Viet Cong forces near Cu Chi, a suburb of Saigon. They were forced out of their location by intense enemy fire before they could evacuate a wounded soldier.
Fernández and three other men volunteered to fight their way back through the volley of bullets and exploding grenades to reach their fallen comrade. During their rescue attempt, a sergeant among the volunteers was shot in the knee, and Fernandez took charge while trying to help him.
The heavy fire forced the group to take cover. As they did, a grenade landed near their group. In the scramble to get away, Fernández kicked it closer. Knowing there was no time to run from it, he yelled, “Move out!” and threw himself onto the grenade as it exploded, sacrificing his own life so the four men with him could live.
His parents were presented with his Medal of Honor by President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House in 1967. He is buried at Santa Fe National Cemetery. In his hometown of Los Lunas, a school, park, road, and recreation facility are named in his honor.
Harold Moon was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After the onset of World War II, he joined the Army from Gardena, CA, and served as a Private in Company G, 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. During his service, he gained a reputation as a troublemaker, earning the nickname the “G Company Screw-Up.” While serving in Leyte in the Philippine Islands, he was confined to the stockades but released back to his unit just before fighting began.
The Battle of Leyte was the biggest naval battle of World War II. On October 21, 1944, Moon was positioned to defend a beachhead in Pawig. During the night, Japanese soldiers attacked, quickly surrounding his platoon’s flanks. Pvt. Moon, armed with a submachinegun, returned fire. He was soon wounded and his foxhole became the immediate focus of a concentration of mortar and machinegun fire. He maintained his stand, calling back range positions that would knock out enemy mortars. After four hours of fighting, he was surrounded. At dawn, an entire platoon charged with fixed bayonets. Firing from a sitting position, Pvt. Moon calmly emptied his magazine into the advancing horde, killing 18 and repulsing the attack. In a final display of bravery, he stood up to throw a grenade at a machinegun that had opened fire on the right flank. He was hit and instantly killed. Almost 200 enemy soldiers were found dead within 100 yards of his foxhole.
Moon was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on November 15, 1945. He is buried at Sunset Memorial Park in his birth city of Albuquerque.
Born in Farmington, New Mexico, Kenneth Worley lived in a converted school bus parked on a plot of land owned by his grandparents. He never knew who his father was, and his mother left him with his grandparents and moved away when he was very young. After she passed away, Worley and his grandparents moved to Truth or Consequences. When he was 16, he relocated to California and found a job transporting Christmas trees down from the mountains.
In June of 1967, Worley enlisted in the Marine Corps. After completing basic training, he shipped out for Vietnam with L Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines Division. On August 12, 1968, Pfc. Worley and his platoon were sent to Bo Ban, a little village in South Vietnam, to set up an ambush. Just before sunrise, while Worley and five other Marines were sleeping in a hut in the village, a Viet Cong soldier threw a grenade into the hut. The leader of the platoon yelled out, “Grenade!” waking the other men. Worley at once threw himself on top of the grenade and was killed instantly upon its detonation, saving the lives of the other Marines.
He was buried with military honors in August in Westminster at Westminster Memorial Park. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on April 20, 1970, by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew in a ceremony at the White House.
We at French Funerals & Cremations in Albuquerque are proud of the men and women of our state who dedicate their lives to service. Memorial Day, take a moment to reflect on these individuals who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country, so that American citizens may live in peace.