Norman Hatch, Combat
Photographer Recalls Bloodiest Battle
May 28, 2012
The horrific battle
for the small Pacific island of Tarawa in 1943 was one of the bloodiest
of World War Two. U.S. Marine Sergeant Norman Hatch was there. But
instead of a rifle, Hatch carried a camera and the film he shot helped
to change Americans’ view of the war. The combat photographer reminisced
about the fierce struggle for the island.
Documenting a war
"That is the picture of the photographers of the 2nd Marine division
that landed on Tarawa. I am right here, at the top. They are all gone,
all gone. I have never forgotten the battle at Tarawa. The Japanese lost
about 4,000 people in that particular battle. We were about a little
over 1,000 killed and about 2,200 somewhat wounded in 76 hours," he
Nearly 70 years later, those memories remain fresh for 91-year-old
“When you get into the battle, the blood begins to race and you do your
job. My job was to take pictures," said Hatch. "I had to shoot the
pictures the best way I could possibly shoot them."
In the midst of battle
Hatch carried a hand-cranked 35-millimeter movie camera. He waded in
right beside machine gunners going ashore.
“Looking through the viewfinder and trying to frame the story that I was
shooting, it was like what you were looking at a movie. And in a sense,
I felt detached in a degree from what was happening around me,” he said.
Even when he saw his comrades get shot and fall, Hatch continued to
document the battle.
“The troops who were on the so-called front line would say when you come
up, 'What are you doing here, you don’t have to be here.' And I would
say, 'Yes, I do, because the public has to know what we are doing," he
noted. "And this is the only way they are really going to know is by
seeing this film through the newsreels.'”
Franklin Roosevelt had to grant special permission for the public
release of Hatch's film, which included gruesome and disturbing images.
“Nobody really had seen a down and dirty fight as the best way to
describe it. Tarawa was really the first film that the public saw of
in-close fighting. We had both our people and the Japanese in the same
frame of film," Hatch stated.
Hatch’s footage is included in the documentary film With the Marines at
Tarawa, which won an Academy Award in 1944.
It is also featured in director Steven C. Barber’s new documentary,
Until They Are Home. The film chronicles efforts to find the remains of
fallen Marines and bring them home, almost seven decades after the last
shot was fired on the Pacific island.
"After the war, so many people would say to me something about 'How come
you walked all over the battle field and never got hit?' I have no
answers to why I wasn't shot," he said. "You take chances and hopefully
you win. That is the way it goes."