Tarawa documentary won Academy Award
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  1. #1

    Exclamation Tarawa documentary won Academy Award

    December 11, 2006
    The Lore of the Corps
    Tarawa documentary won Academy Award

    By Charles A. Jones
    Special to the times

    The Battle of Tarawa is well-known for its vicious fighting and number of casualties as Marines captured the island from the Japanese in roughly 76 hours during November 1943.

    Less well-known is the 19-minute movie, “With the Marines at Tarawa,” which was shot by Marine cinematographers during the battle. The movie won the 1944 Academy Award for documentary (short subject), the first such award for the Corps.

    The film, which is available for purchase or rental from many sites, was shot in full color and features no actors, only authentic footage.

    Commanding a crew of 19 cinematographers, including himself, was a Marine captain who had already appeared in several Hollywood films. Capt. Louis Hayward became a Marine officer in 1942; he was assigned as the photographic officer for 2nd Marine Division.

    His team covered the Tarawa operation from beginning to end, including embarkation, briefings, pre-invasion bombardment, dead and wounded, Seabee airfield construction and the Marine departure after the battle.

    During footage of religious services aboard ship just before the invasion, the film’s narrator states, “Many of these men were killed the following morning.”

    The movie covers all aspects of ground fighting, showing Marines in action, infantry weapons and supporting arms. Alert viewers also will catch a brief scene of a Marine sniper.

    The narrator notes difficulties in fighting the Japanese, who hid “in trees, behind revetments, buried pillboxes, bomb proofs [and] bunkers.” In one scene, a Marine throws a grenade into an opening; after it explodes, crouching Marines approach slowly, covering the opening with a revolver and rifles.

    The film is unique for capturing, in the same frames, Japanese running in front of Marines. It also captures war’s human cost, showing Marine bodies ashore and afloat with this narration: “These are Marine dead. This is the price we have to pay for a war we didn’t want and, before it’s over, there’ll be other dead on other battlefields.”

    Chaplains’ assistants removed one identification tag from each body and left the duplicate, “so there’ll be no mistake later on,” the narrator explains.

    The film captures somber faces of exhausted Marines departing Tarawa after a victory whose cost — more than 1,000 Marine and Navy dead — brought no farewell smiles.

    Remarkably, none of Hayward’s Marines was killed or wounded during the battle, although they stood or otherwise exposed themselves to danger to film under fire. In 1943, Hayward provided guidance for editing the Tarawa footage. The results — an Academy Award and Bronze Star — were small consolation for the battle’s effect on Hayward, who experienced severe depression. His marriage to film star Ida Lupino ended; he died in 1985.

    Charles A. Jones is a lawyer and Marine Corps Reserve colonel in Norfolk, Va. He thanks Norman Hatch, one of the film’s cinematographers, for assisting with this article.


  2. #2
    Just found this site this evening. Am busying trying to immerse myself in WWII Marine Corps lore and am really, really excited to have found this community. Wanted to mention that I found this film available for free streaming download at:


    Obviously the film looks a little old, but holy crap, it gets you onto a troop transport and lets you hear honest-to-God naval bombardment. Really a fantastic bit of documentation -- thanks for giving me the title to search for!


    (PS, I'm probably technically "Marine Family" -- my dad was a helicopter pilot in the Corps from 1960-64 and then stayed on in the reserves for a few years after that. 'Course, me being born in 1972, the only real awareness I have of my dad's stint in the Corps was his uniform he had hanging in the closet, which is sort of why I'd feel weird about claiming "family rights". Heck, I don't even feel right having a USAA credit card...)

  3. #3
    Marine Family Free Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    South Florida
    For many years I had not only heard and read about this "documentary" but I had also told other people about it as well but I have yet to see it for myself. This documentary was "iffy" in a sense that it brought alot of unrelenting misery, fatality and suffering to the wide screen. There was concern that the American public would be taken rather aback once they saw this heroic peice of film making. Thankfully, the film went on to garner its just due.

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