The Lt. Hawkins Brew: 1stLt William D. Hawkins, USMC
If you're reading this you probably know that Ad Astra Roasters is a Marine Corps Veteran owned and operated business founded in Fort Scott, Kansas. I served for almost a decade on active duty and now can't help but notice the memorials that stand in almost every town in the country bearing the names of those who fell in its service. When I'm out for a jog and pass a memorial I always stop and offer up a set of push-ups ... a sign of respect and solidarity with the fallen.
Shortly after opening the roasting business, I was out for a jog that took me through our downtown area and noticed a memorial dedicated to Fort Scott's Medal of Honor recipients over the years. 1stLt. Hawkins' name jumped out at me and I decided to do a little research.
It turns out that Hawkins was a Fort Scott native who was badly burned as a child in an accident with boiling water. He was covered in scars and only retained use of his limbs due to his mother's extraordinary efforts to nurse him back to health and full mobility after doctors had written him off.
Entering the Military
As a young man he sought to join the Navy and the Army Air Corps but was turned down by both services on account of his scarred appearance. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawkins tried again, this time with the Marine Corps, and found himself shipped out to San Diego for basic training followed by training to become a Scout Sniper.
Soon after joining an East Coast infantry battalion, Private First Class Hawkins deployed to the Pacific theater where he first saw combat as a sniper in the Battle of Guadalcanal. He was quickly promoted to the rank of Sergeant as the scarred sniper from Kansas commanded his fellow Marines' respect on account of his own tactical proficiency, conduct under fire, and leadership within his platoon. By the time his unit was preparing to storm the beaches of Tarawa, Hawkins had been field-commissioned, making him an officer in command of the Scout Sniper platoon.
At Tarawa, Hawkins' snipers were tasked with establishing various support by fire positions in order to provide suppressing fire to cover the landing of the main body of Marines. Of course, this means going in first and without the benefit of covering fire yourself. Typical of his aggressive attitude, Hawkins led his snipers in. They cleared a pier and and neutralized several Japanese machine-gun bunkers before establishing a position on the sea wall by which to cover the landing craft. By the end of the first day the Marines had carved out a foothold on the island that the Japanese commander had enthused would resist invasion by a million soldiers for a hundred years.
Death and Medal of Honor
On the second day of the invasion Hawkins and his platoon continued to push forward of the main body in order to eliminate Japanese bunkers and firing positions. His Medal of Honor citation describes his final moments as he eliminated eight Japanese machine-gun pill-boxes after being wounded and refusing to evacuate to the rear.
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to First Lieutenant William Deane Hawkins, United States Marine Corps, for valorous and gallant conduct above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of a Scout Sniper Platoon attached to the Assault Regiment of the Second Marines, SECOND Marine Division, in action against Japanese-held Tarawa in the Gilbert Island, 20 and 21 November 1943. The first to disembark from the jeep lighter, First Lieutenant Hawkins unhesitatingly moved forward under heavy enemy fire at the end of the Betio Pier, neutralizing emplacements in coverage of troops assaulting the main beach positions. Fearlessly leading his men on to join the forces fighting desperately to gain a beachhead, he repeatedly risked his life throughout the day and night to direct and lead attacks on pillboxes and installations with grenades and demolitions. At dawn on the following day, First Lieutenant Hawkins resumed the dangerous mission of clearing the limited beachhead of Japanese resistance, personally initiating an assault on a hostile position fortified by five enemy machine guns, and, crawling forward in the face of withering fire, boldly fired pointblank into the loopholes and completed the destruction with grenades. Refusing to withdraw after being seriously wounded in the chest during this skirmish, First Lieutenant Hawkins steadfastly carried the fight to the enemy, destroying three more pillboxes before he was caught in a burst of Japanese shellfire and mortally wounded. His relentless fighting spirit in the face of formidable opposition and his exceptionally daring tactics served as an inspiration to his comrades during the most crucial phase of the battle and reflect the highest credit upon the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
A Modest Tribute
1stLt Hawkins was just a young man from small town America. He was physically disadvantaged and scarred since his boyhood - turned away from service due to his appearance. And despite it all, he
demonstrated in battle when the stakes were highest an entirely extraordinary courage and selflessness. Our coffee is a small tribute to his memory and the hope that his combination of indomitable character and spirit of selflessness will encourage us to strive for the same.
Semper Fi - and rest in peace.