Steven Barber’s, Return To Tarawa: sequel is in post production
The Battle of Tarawa was a battle in the Pacific Theatre of World War II, largely fought from November 20 to November 23, 1943. It was the second time the United States was on the offensive (the Guadalcanal Campaign had been the first), and the first offensive in the critical central Pacific region.
It was also the first time in the war that the United States faced serious Japanese opposition to an amphibious landing. Previous landings met little or no initial resistance. The 4,500 Japanese defenders were well-supplied and well-prepared, and they fought almost to the last man, exacting a heavy toll on the United States Marine Corps.
American casualties on the beach were so severe that over a hundred corpses were never repatriated. Staff Sgt Norman T. Hatch, a combat cameraman who filmed the bodies on the beach, produced images that were so disturbing that he had to obtain permission from President Franklin Roosevelt before they could be shown to the public. The footage was included in the 1944 short documentary With the Marines at Tarawa, and was the only film to contain gruesome scenes of American dead up to that date.
Recently, we were introduced to Steven C. Barber who produced a modern day documentary, as he followed, World War II combat veteran Leon Cooper, who embarks on what he considers his final mission – to preserve the hallowed ground of one of World War II’s deadliest battlefields at Red Beach on Tarawa Island. We consider Leon Cooper’s action an example of doing the right thing.
This battle was the U.S. Navy’s first major amphibious assault and over 1,600 American servicemen fell at Tarawa, a fortified Japanese stronghold. Tarawa is a series of coral reef atolls in the Gilbert island group, about 2,500 miles southwest of the Hawaii islands and currently within the Republic of Kiribati. Return To Tarawa documents Cooper’s stirring trip back to confirm first-hand the reports of the desecration of Red Beach, which is littered with piles of garbage, rusting debris and possible lost gravesites of servicemen still listed as missing in action. While an emotionally charged experience for the eighty-nine year old Cooper, this journey further propels his mission to clean-up and restore this sacred battleground by making it a permanent war memorial for all those who fought and died there. STEVEN C BARBER’s, Return To Tarawa: The Leon Cooper Story: is narrated by actor Ed Harris, this documentary tells the story in a moving and causes throat lumps along the way.
Cooper’s first combat experience came in November of 1943 as a U.S. Navy landing craft officer charged with leading a group of Higgins Landing Crafts in the first wave of the Battle of Tarawa. The battle became known as “Bloody Tarawa” because over 1,600 marines and sailors lost their lives and more than 2,000 were wounded over the course of the three-day conflict. Cooper cannot escape the painful memories of seeing hundreds of his fellow countrymen fall around him and now, he lives with the gut-wrenching knowledge that the site of their ultimate sacrifice has become a garbage dump. Therefore, Cooper has dedicated himself to securing the support of the U.S. and Republic of Kiribati in restoring Red Beach to its original pristine condition. Return To Tarawa tracks Cooper’s efforts to have his comprehensive restoration plan implemented including building a modern incineration facility, which would relieve the island’s chronic issues of refuse disposal. Cooper is seeking the support of the U.S. government to fund this program and establish the beach as a permanent war memorial including moving the Memorial to the 2nd Division Marines from its current location in a parking lot.
During his journey, Cooper meets with non-profit organizations dedicated to searching for the hundreds of U.S. servicemen still listed as missing in action from the Battle of Tarawa. Nearly 65 years later, these volunteers are using declassified documents, archive photographs and ground-penetrating radar to identify and locate what was suppose to be temporary gravesites that still may exist on the island. These organizations hope their efforts will assist the U.S. government in returning the remains of these MIA’s to their families and provide these heroes a proper burial back home on U.S. soil.
Steven tells USFallen.org a sequel is in post production and due out soon. For more information visit: