Bringing Battle to the Home Front: With the Marines at Tarawa
Will you be watching the Oscars this Sunday? Did you know that a number of films produced by the United States government were nominated or won Academy Awards? One such film is With the Marines at Tarawa, which brought the experience of a major battle to the American public and consequently won the 1945 Academy Award for best documentary short.
With the Marines at Tarawa hit theaters March 2nd, 1944. Sunday’s Oscar broadcast marks the 70th anniversary of the film’s release.
The Unites States Marine Corps fought the Battle of Tarawa over four days in November, 1943. At the end of the battle, nearly a thousand Marines were dead, and over two thousand were wounded. Of those holding the island, there were nearly 4700 casualties. Only seventeen Japanese soldiers surrendered; of about a thousand Korean forced laborers, 129 survived the battle.
Beyond the strategic value of the victory, the battle is significant today because so much of it was caught on film by our combat cameramen. Seeing the footage made the experience real for those on the home front, and serves as a record of the horror of war for those of us who watch it now.
With the Marines at Tarawa was carefully crafted to bring viewers into the experience, from the somber mood during preparation, through the chaos of battle, the overwhelming sadness of counting and caring for the dead, and the sense of accomplishment as the American flag was raised on the island.
In addition, the film focuses on how lives were saved by competent medical personnel and the possibility of blood transfusions, a fact that would have provided hope to those with loved ones on the front lines. Viewers are left with a sense of grief, as well as patriotism in knowing that “our boys” were bravely fighting this “war we did not want.”