Your Marine Corps

Norm Hatch, WWII Marine combat cameraman, dies at 96

Norm Hatch, a Marine Corps veteran who played a crucial role in the famous Iwo Jima photo and whose footage from the Battle of Tarawa won an Academy Award, died Saturday outside Washington. He was 96.

His family members plan to hold a memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery later this year. 

Born in 1921, Hatch enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1939, where he eventually joined the photographic unit, according to the Washington Post. As the United States entered World War II, Hatch and his camera deployed with the Marines to the Pacific.

In 1943, Hatch and his hand-cranked camera recorded scenes from the Battle of Tarawa. Footage captured by Hatch would be made into the 1944 documentary short "With the Marines at Tarawa," which received the 1945 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. The award was officially presented to the Marine Corps.

Roughly 15 months after Tarawa, Hatch wound up with the Marines on the island of Iwo Jima, capturing moments from one of the most historic battles in the Corps’ history.

He came ashore with the first wave of Marines in which nearly 6,000 were killed. Four days into the battle, an order came down to get a larger American flag to the top of Mt. Suribachi, a large volcanic peak and the highest point on the island.

With no hesitation, the 24-year-old combat cameraman grabbed Staff Sgt. Bill Genaust and Pfc. Bob Campbell and ordered them to join the Marine detachment heading up the mountain with the larger flag. On their way up, Genaust and Campbell encountered Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, who happened to know Campbell, as the two had worked together at the San Francisco Chronicle. Rosenthal then decided to join them for the rest of the hike up.

"Rosenthal said he thought [the peak] looked like a good place to take a picture," Hatch told the Washington Post in 2013. "He got there just in time."

Campbell and Genaust began capturing the changing of the flag on their still and video cameras, while Rosenthal moved some rocks and sandbags around to create a better vantage point. Five Marines and a Navy corpsman hoisted the flag as Rosenthal quickly captured the now iconic photo.

Within a day and a half, Rosenthal's picture was on newspaper covers back home. The picture would become a symbol for the Corps, eventually featured as the centerpiece statue for the United States Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Va.

Here is the famous video captured by Genaust of the flag raising:

Without Hatch’s involvement getting Campbell to go up the mountain, Rosenthal might have not joined for the trek and the photo may never have been captured. Additionally, Hatch carried with him Genaust’s film when he left the island as Genaust was killed at Iwo Jima.

Hatch has tirelessly defended the photo’s authenticity throughout his life, as rumors circulated that the photo was staged.

"Had I posed that shot, I would of course have ruined it," Rosenthal said in Charles "Chip" Jones’s book "War Shots," about the combat photographers. "I’d have picked fewer men. . . . I would have made them turn their heads so they could be identified [and] nothing like the existing picture would have resulted," he added.

Norm Hatch was honorably discharged from the Marines in 1946. In his later years he worked as an audio visual aid at the Pentagon, working for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.

He passed away Saturday in Alexandria, Va. He was the last living Marine connected to the Iwo Jima flag raising photo. 

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