WASHINGTON (AP) — Maj. Norman T. Hatch, a Marine combat cinematographer during World War II whose harrowing footage became the basis of an Academy Award-winning documentary short, has died, his son said. He was 96.
Hatch died Saturday of natural causes at a nursing home in Alexandria, Virginia, the city where he lived for most of his life, said his son, N. Thomas Hatch Jr.
Hatch’s footage of the 1943 Battle of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, now part of Micronesia, was unusually graphic, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt had to give special permission for the resulting documentary to be shown as a newsreel. The documentary, “With the Marines at Tarawa,” won the Academy Award for best documentary short.
Hatch was so close to the action that he was able to capture Japanese soldiers and the Marines who shot them in the same frame.
“Two squads of Japanese came out — about 12 men,” he told NPR in a 2010 interview. “They were mowed down. I had the machine gunner right in front of me.”
His footage also shows Marines lying dead on a beach. He told NPR that he remembers the stench of the dead and the thick black smoke that forced him to change the shutter speed on his hand-cranked 16mm camera.
“I was told by guys on the front line that I didn’t have to be there, and I would quietly tell them that I did,” Hatch said in the interview. “The public had to know what we were doing, and this was the only way they would find out.”
He was also with the Marines for their assault on Iwo Jima and contributed footage to another documentary, “To the Shores of Iwo Jima.”
A Massachusetts native, Hatch joined the in 1939 after graduating from high school. He already had an interest in photography and further developed his skills while with the Marines before he was sent to the Pacific.
After the war, he worked as a civilian at the Pentagon, retiring as the senior audio-visual adviser to the Assistant Secretary of Defense. He later ran a production company. He collaborated with author Charles Jones on the book “War Shots,” about his work in combat.
Survivors include his wife of 74 years and their son and daughter. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
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