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William George Hawks

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West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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William George Hawks
1913-1944

"Victory at Saipan did not end the war, but it shortened it. America gained, in exchange for 16,000 casualties, a solid foothold in the heart of the Japanese 'Absolute Sphere of National Defense'."

Col. Joseph H. Alexander

U.S. Navy Gunner’s Mate Second Class William George Hawks was born on November 5, 1913, and died at Saipan in the Pacific Theater of World War II on July 30, 1944. The son of Charles M. Hawks and Bettie Alma McKinney Hawks, most likely he was born in the vicinity of Mabscott, Raleigh County, West Virginia, as that is where the family was residing at the time of the 1920 Federal Census. Charles and Bettie had two other sons: Joseph W. Hawks (b. 1910) and Chester Mathew Hawks (b. 1917). William George Hawks also had a half-sibling, Charles William Sarver.

By 1930, a very young William George Hawks was residing Boone County in the household of his in-laws, having married Ruth Opal Price on January 17 of that year. The 1930 census indicates he was a general farm laborer, working for the family; his daughter states that he was also a coal miner. Ruth Opal and William would eventually have six children: Jackie Wilmer, Kathleen June, Billy Lee, Charles, Norman Frederick (who lived only to the age of 10), and Thelma Kay. Kay, the one child remaining to keep alive William’s memory, recalls that he and his father-in-law built a log cabin on the family homestead, and it was only recently demolished. Kay never got to know her father, but fortunately she learned much about him from her older sister, Kathleen June. Kathleen’s memories were so vivid that she was able to paint a portrait of her father from memory. The children grew up in Barrett, Boone County.

William’s age and the size of his family probably would have earned him a deferment, and he would not have had to serve in the military. But like so many who grew up in the 20s and 30s, he felt compelled to volunteer. His years as a jack of all trades on the farm would have suited him for the branch of the Navy where he would end up—the Construction Battalion. He was inducted on November 3, 1943; trained at Camp Peary, Virginia; and embarked on April 20, 1944, for the Pacific Theater. It was there in the Battle for Saipan that he lost his life just three months later. A page devoted to Hawks in Gold Star Boys: Service Record Book of Men and Women of Madison, W. Va., and Community states that he was killed by enemy action while guarding an explosive dump, a fact that would seem to be corroborated by the date of his death and the details of the battle and subsequent occupation of the island.

Because of the importance of the islands leading to Japan, the U.S. escalated operations in the Pacific Theater of the war in early 1944. Military strategists understood that the Mariana Islands Saipan, Tinian, and Guam comprised the pathway to Tokyo, with Saipan being the logical first target, followed by Guam and Tinian. Approximately 30,000 Japanese troops were garrisoned on Saipan. The battle plan called for the island to be taken within three days. Thus on June 15, 1944, U.S. forces landed on the beaches of Saipan with the object of establishing an airfield. The fight for the island was “brutal and prolonged,” lasting three weeks rather than three days. But by July 9, U.S. forces had achieved their objective. Victory was costly: It is estimated that the Japanese lost at least 27,000 soldiers in addition to many civilians. The U.S. suffered 3,000 deaths and more than 13,000 wounded. The battle did, however, demonstrate America’s military superiority. Japan’s General Hideki Tojo, the architect of Japan’s military presence, had stated that the U.S. would not take Saipan. A week after the American victory, he resigned. (Source: History.com, “Battle of Saipan,” A+E Networks, 2009, accessed 20 April 2016, http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/battle-of-saipan.)

Walls of the Missing

Walls of the Missing, Honolulu Memorial, Hawaii. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

While the results of the battle were favorable overall to his country, William George Hawks would lose his life. First listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial, he was later memorialized at the National Cemetery at Grafton, West Virginia (Section MA, Site 86) at the request of his daughter Kay.
marker

Headstone for GM2C William George Hawks, National Cemetery, Grafton, West Virginia. Courtesy Tom Smith, Find A Grave, accessed 14 April 2016

Family information provided by Thelma Kay Hawks DeMoss, daughter of William George Hawks. Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure
April 2016

Honor...

William George Hawks

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.


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