Return to Tarawa
In the fall of 1943 the United States began an aggressive campaign against Japanese defenses in the Central Pacific. Over 35,000 US Marines and Naval forces were assembled for an invasion. On November 20th, the United States launched an assault against the most heavily fortified Japanese island in the world: Tarawa. This island is part of the Gilbert Islands that are strategically located between the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippines.
The Gilbert Islands had been under the jurisdiction of the British government until December of 1941. Two days after the attack at Pearl Harbor, Japanese soldiers stepped on to Tarawa and proclaimed it for the Empire.
The war on the Pacific was commanded by two key figures of which one was General Douglas MacArthur.
On board a Higgins landing craft, young Leon Cooper was responsible for the lives of hundreds of men. No one could imagine the ferocity of the battle that ensued and the amount of death and destruction that they would have to face in such a short period of time.
In 2008 Leon Cooper, now a World War II veteran, left Los Angeles with a film crew on an eleven hour flight to Fiji. This journey took 65 years to happen and it was fueled by the desire to investigate if it was true that the fabled ‘Red Beach’ had become a dumping ground for plastic waste. Cooper was dismayed to find out that this place where so many fellow marines sacrificed their lives in one of the bloodiest three-day battles in US history has now been reduced to garbage rotting in the sun.
Narrated by four-time Oscar nominee Ed Harris, this historical documentary follows Cooper’s trip to Tarawa. The journey brings on a combination of anger and amazement as Cooper and filmmaker Steven C. Barber visit what is thought to be the graves of hundreds of soldiers who are still buried there.