MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
With Marines grossly outnumbered, a Japanese general touted there was no way the Pacific island would be overrun. When it comes to the battle of Tarawa, the numbers speak for themselves.
Within 76 hours, more than 1000 Marines and sailors gave their lives while taking the island. The Marines may have taken a heavy toll, but it was small in comparison to the more than 4000 Japanese soldiers who lost their lives. One of the first American victories in the Pacific during World War II; the island had been secured.
Storming the beach with his fellow Marines, Staff Sgt. Norman Hatch captured the events as they unfolded in front of him. The images he filmed would forever change the way Americans looked at war.
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, has scheduled a military educational event Aug. 19, at the Marston Pavillion, where Hatch will answer questions and tell his wartime stories. The event is open to anyone with a valid Department of Defense identification card starting from 10—11 a.m.
From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., a book signing with Hatch and Charles Jones, the author of War Shots, the book documenting Hatch’s photos and experiences, will be held at the Marine Corps Exchange Annex, building 84.
Now a retired major, Hatch has relived that day on Tarawa in several videotaped interviews provided by the U.S. Naval institute.
With bullets whizzing by his head, he became completely focused on what he was filming, practically blocking out the reality of what was happening.
“When I was looking through the view finder, I was living in the movie,” said Hatch. “I was disassociated with what was going on around me.”
The combat cameraman trudged through the water with his comrades. He was completely in the open. Unlike modern-day camera equipment, even the slightest bit of water would destroy everything he had filmed.
“I was [standing straight up] while everybody was down at helmet level in the water,” said Hatch. “It looked like a herd of turtles going in at feeding time—just nothing but helmets going along the water. You would see one guy get hit and another guy get hit, and just kept moving.”
“Being a cameraman is like being someone with a target on his back,” he said.
David Brown, executive director of the 2nd Marine Division Association, is a long time friend of Hatch. Pointing to one of the images captured by Hatch, the retired lieutenant colonel said he is still amazed by what Hatch did.
“I mean look at this,” said Brown as he tapped his finger on the computer monitor. “He is standing right there where all of the bullets are flying by. It’s unbelievable!”
The photo Brown was gesturing toward showed Hatch literally standing straight up in the middle of a firefight.
Capturing everything on film Brown said Hatch was one of the first to cinematically document Marines in direct fire.
Hatch described that day in detail.
“I heard one of the Marines yell, ‘Here come the [Japanese]!’ so I just swiveled my body,” said Hatch.
Twelve Japanese soldiers were mowed down, when a machine gunner positioned right next to him, let loose, he said.
“That’s the only time, to the best of my knowledge, in the Pacific War the enemy was in the same frame as us in a fighting stance,” said Hatch.
He went on to compile all of his footage into a short documentary. The images were so astounding that the commandant of the Marine Corps at the time arranged a meeting for Hatch to meet directly with the president, said Brown.
"That footage that was shown of the bodies floating in the water bothered President Roosevelt quite a bit. He was afraid it would scare the people," Hatch said.
With some persuasion from one of Roosevelt’s journalist friends, he agreed to release the film, said Hatch.
The film ‘With the Marines at Tarawa’ hit the theaters in 1944 and immediately gave Americans a look in to the harsh realties of war. It went on to win an Academy Award for Best Short Documentary.
“The film shot on Tarawa was a first because it showed what combat was really like,” said Hatch. “It showed it up close and dirty!”
Hatch didn’t know what type of impact his filming would have on Americans. His productions and photographs will forever tell the long lasting history of the Corps for many generations to come, said Brown.
“At the start of World War II a small group of individuals knew how important it would be to capture history in the making; Hatch was one of them,” said Brown. “Now it’s people’s opportunity to hear this man in person. He is the best story teller that I have ever known.”