Person of the Week: Norman Hatch

The Battle for the island of Tarawa was one of the first American victories in the Pacific in World War II. It was also one of the war's fiercest and bloodiest battles.

On the front lines with the troops was U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Norman Hatch. But instead of shooting a rifle, Hatch was shooting film.

"The film shot on Tarawa was a first because it showed what combat was really like," Hatch said. "It shows it up close and dirty."

Combat Cameraman

As the filmmaker, this marine, a combat cameraman during the war, waded in right beside his comrades who were about to attack.

"When I was looking through the viewfinder, I was living in the movie," he said. "I was disassociated from what was going on around me."

Even as he saw Marines get shot and fall to the ground beside him, Hatch made sure to document every second of the battle with his 16mm camera.

"You cannot take pictures laying down. Being a cameraman was like somewhat of being somebody with a target on your back," Hatch said. "We were upright walking in, while everybody was down at helmet level in the water."

'Bloody Tarawa'

In the face of such danger, he still stayed focused on the mission at hand.

"The adrenaline kicks in and you know what you've got to do. A cameraman is no different than a mortar man or a machine gunner," Hatch said. "Guys would say, 'What you doing here?' We have to be here -- it's the only way people back home are going to know what's going on."

More than 1,000 marines would die in the 76-hour battle. The Japanese lost almost 4,000.

"There wasn't any end. You just walked away. There wasn't anyone left to fight," Hatch said.

War Film Shocks the Homefront

The footage of the carnage was like none that had been seen before -- President Franklin D. Roosevelt had to grant special permission for it to be shown to the public in newsreels.

Person of the Week: WWII Photographer Norman Hatch

"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.

But Roosevelt decided the public needed to know the truth if they were going to support the war effort.

It was shown in movie theatres. And in 1944, Hatch's film won an Oscar for "Most Outstanding Documentary Short."

"I didn't win it.The Marine Corps won it," Hatch said.

The Next 'Great' Generation

As much as Hatch and his generation accomplished during WWII, he now sees the men and women currently serving the United States as the ones to admire.

"We have been labeled the greatest generation, but I think the one's that's over there now is greater, doing their stuff in Iraq and Afghanistan. But history fades pretty fast," he said.