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Leon Cooper's message? Gladstone, England's 19th Century Prime Minister said, "One can judge the conscience of a nation by the recognition it gives to those who died for it." What is the state of America's conscience? The battle of "Bloody Tarawa" was fought sixty-five years ago, yet the remains of hundreds of Americans still lie in Betio, the tiny South Pacific island in Tarawa where the battle was fought--forgotten and ignored by our nation. Their relatives know only that these dead, who gave their lives in defense of America's freedom, are classified as MIA The Military Channel's "Return to Tarawa-the Leon Cooper Story" has served to expose this shameful chapter in America's history, causing the question to be raised: "How many more Tarawa's are there?" The answer: there are 45,120 WWII dead in the Pacific Theatre, a tally as of September 6, 2006, according to the Department of Defense. The Pacific War MIAs account for more than 55% of all of the 73,291 MIAs of WWII. These shocking numbers stem from the Defense Department's policy: "Most recent wars first." In order words, the Department gives first priority to the recovery and repatriation of dead from the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars. All of our nation's wars prior to Viet Nam are classified as "Ancient Wars." It is particularly contemptuous treat WWII MIAs as fossilized remains. The Defense Department's recovery rate of 0.2% per year "returns" simply emphasizes that contempt. One study has estimated that, at the Department's recovery rate, it will take more than 300 years to recover all of the Pacific War's "recoverables." Will the thousands of Americans who still lie where they fell in Papua New Guinea, in the Solomons, in the Marianas ever be returned to their homes?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I go back and forth on military documentaries, I've seen so many since the History Channel came out ib the 90's that I am pretty jaded. But I was yearning for something to watch and still am intrigued by 20th century war history. I expected Return To Tarawa to be standard Military Channel programming fare and at first glance I was correct in that assumption, it gives a very good look at the battle and gives us an update of what Tarawa looks like today where many of the war relics still exist, it's worth watching just in that regard. About halfway through though it started to strike me that there was another story going on here, one Veterans fight to have his comrades who died at Tarawa honored in a better way. Mr Cooper may have come off as arrogant to at least one viewer (the Canadian IMDb.com reviewer) but I have to give the man the respect he is due as I respect my elders especially when they are Vet's like myself. What I thought at first was just a cantankerous old man, Mr Cooper in presenting his plan of action to the island officials showed that he was very intelligent and had planned things out very thoughtfully on ways to restore the beaches to respect those who died there. The reason that motivated me to write anything here was the final quarter of the program when you discover the tragedy of all the men who ARE STILL listed as MIA when they can easily be proved KIA. This means a tremendous amount to the families of the fallen ones and it really shows why no one in their right mind showed ever blindly trust the government. By the end of the program I had wept for this man and his righteous cause, now made ever more righteous by his own first hand discoveries of the situation at Tarawa. This documentary is easily a 10 of 10, highly recommended for military history buffs, it's very emotionally moving. God bless you Mr Cooper, and keep up your fight as I know you will!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In Steven C. Barber's 2009 film "Return to Tarawa," which features Leon
Cooper's role in the Battle of Tarawa, and in many interviews about the
film available online, Mr. Cooper is portrayed as a heroic character
who ferried Marines into Tarawa and wounded guys out throughout the
3-day battle in November of 1943. Mr. Cooper also reportedly helped
with graves detailing in the week that followed.
Unfortunately, Mr. Cooper's own account in his 2003 autobiography, 90 Day Wonder: Darkness Remembered, tells a very different story about his actions at Tarawa. Mr. Cooper's landing craft was hit, then he was returned to a ship and cleared for duty by a Navy doctor. Mr. Cooper then ordered a coxswain to bring him to a strip of land far away from the battle for about a week, by which time the fighting and follow-up actions had ended. Essentially, Mr. Cooper went AWOL.
Both accounts cannot be true. I suspect his first account in the book is the truthful one. Why mislead in a self-published autobiography that few people will read anyway? Mr. Cooper's own memoir makes it clear he never actually set foot on Betio in 1943, which shoots an enormous hole in the premise of this film.
Truth matters, especially when understanding history. The problem with Mr. Cooper's role in Mr. Barber's would-be "Hollywood" representation is that if it was okay to lie about one thing then perhaps it was okay to falsify many others.
Advice for viewers: read the book. See the film. Watch the online interviews with Mr. Cooper and Mr. Barber. Read online discussions about these discrepancies on www.tarawaontheweb.org. Then decide if the truth matters; decide if it's okay to fudge the details about a battle in which many brave Americans really did fight and die.
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