On July 30, 1944, the El Paso Times reported that his mother, Clara Jane Hawkins, was planning a trip to Washington, D.C., where President Franklin D. Roosevelt would present her with her son's Congressional Medal of Honor:

(Photo: Courtesy El Paso County
Historical Society)

Mrs. C. Jane Hawkins will leave Tuesday for Washington, D.C., where, Mrs. Roosevelt had advised her, the President will present her with the Congressional Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously to her son, First Lt. William Deane Hawkins.

The airfield, which Lieutenant Hawkins helped to take on Tarawa, is named in his honor. As the leader of a scout and sniper platoon which he offered to match, 34 strong, against any 200 soldiers in the world, he landed ahead of the bombardment which opened the invasion, and paved the way for the capture of the airstrip.

He won his commission after serving in the ranks on Guadalcanal.

In her letter, Mrs. Roosevelt wrote: “I realize how hard it has been for you, but the war has been hard, as you well know, and I assure you changes are not because of anything unimportant.”

Mrs. Hawkins will visit her brother, Deane Moon, who lives in Louisburg, N.C.

The El Paso 20-30 Club will finance Mrs. Hawkins’ trip.

Lieutenant Hawkins was the only son of Mrs. Hawkins, whose husband died when her son was eight years old. He was a graduate of El Paso High School and College of Mines. Mrs. Hawkins, who lives at 1014 North Oregon Street, is a teacher at El Paso Technical Institute.

“I think it will be a wonderful thing to receive the medal,” Mrs. Hawkins said. “Of course, it could not take the place of my boy — a hundred medals couldn’t do that. But it is a signal honor and one any mother would be proud to receive.”

William Deane Hawkins, who died in World War II on Nov. 21, 1943, at the Battle of Tarawa, is shown, above, as a child standing between his parents. (Photo: Courtesy El Paso County Historical Society)

USS Hawkins honor

Three months later, on Dec. 26, 1944, Clara Hawkins had just returned from Orange, Texas, where she attended ceremonies christening the USS Hawkins:

Back from the christening and launching of the USS Hawkins — the largest destroyer ever built — Mrs. Clara Jane Hawkins has received posthumously one more honor for her son, First Lt. William Deane Hawkins, USMCR, killed at Tarawa.

In ceremonies at Orange, Texas, Oct. 7, Mrs. Hawkins broke the traditional bottle of champagne across the ship’s bow, a moment before it slipped its moorings to join the wartime flotilla.

“It was a wonderful thrill,” Mrs. Hawkins said Wednesday. “I was covered with champagne from top to toe and even had a few splinters of glass in my shoe.”

Remnants of the shattered bottle were carefully packed in a mahogany box, made of the same timber of which the ship was built. The Consolidated Steel Corporation presented her with a heavy silver platter, bordered with the laurel wreath, symbolic of heroism.

The ceremonies also included reading of the citation made by President Roosevelt when he presented Mrs. Hawkins with the Congressional Medal of Honor, Sept. 30. An oil painting of the Marine will hang in the ship.

Mrs. Hawkins, a teacher at El Paso Technical Institute, was accompanied to Orange by J.T. Reynolds, director of vocational education at Tech, and Mrs. Adah Mott, tech teacher.

Among the crowd of Navy and company officials which viewed the launching was Edward Cross, who had done most of the welding on the ship’s keel. Mr. Gross received his training in welding at Technical Institute. He is Mrs. Mott’s brother-in-law.

Coincident with the USS Hawkins’ launching, Capt. Walker Tynes, back from the South Pacific, told the Dallas Morning News:

“The story of Bill Hawkins is almost incredible — but I saw it. He was in the first wave to hit Tarawa. A pier jutted out from the beach some 300 yards and the Japs had a batch of machine guns hidden beneath it.

“Hawkins and a couple of others jumped from their boats to the pier to wipe out the machine guns. Suddenly, there was a terrific explosion. The Japs had mined the pier and blew it sky high. Marines were blown everywhere. Many had their clothes blown off. Hawkins sailed 50 feet and landed in the water.

“But he didn’t stop. He climbed into an alligator and went ashore. Then he loaded up with grenades and TNT and started for those machine gun nests again. He stood there and threw grenades and tossed TNT at them.

“The fellow knocked out 10 machine guns! It was magnificent. Then he sneaked over to some pill-boxes and calmly poured gasoline down the ventilating holes. He lighted matches, rolls of paper and weeds and tossed them. Burning Japs screamed.

“Twice he was wounded but he went on with his rampage. Next afternoon he was standing near a half-truck, directing fire at pill-boxes. He was standing out there in the open, blowing the daylights out of them.

“Finally, Bill Hawkins got it. A sniper picked him off. He was a hero — every inch a hero. I saw him.”

That tribute and one which a Marine sergeant telephoned from Union Depot to Mrs. Hawkins — “He was my commanding officer, and I just wanted you to know the inspiration he gave will last us all our lives” — mean more to Mrs. Hawkins than all the medals, courtesies and silver in the world.

Trish Long is the El Paso Times' librarian and spends her time in the morgue, where the newspaper keeps its old clippings and photos. She may be reached at 546-6179 or tlong@elpasotimes.com.

William Deane Hawkins, EPHS Class of January 1931, was featured in the World War II portion of the El Paso High School Centennial Committee's Legacy Series - ROTC & Military Service, performed 12 May 2016 in RR Jones Stadium.  A display case in the El Paso High School Museum is dedicated to this Medal of Honor Recipient.

The USS William Dean Hawkins, D873, at sea.
The USS Hawkins, which saw combat action during WWII, the Korean Conflict,
and the Vietnam War, was decommissioned by the US Navy on 1 October 1979.