Military stories from past to present, both wars.

Major Norman Hatch, Marine Ret.

April 19th, 2010 Posted in The SandGram v1.0
Major Norman Hatch

Major Norman Hatch

While attending the 5th annual MilBlog conference in Arlington VA this month, I had a chance of a life time and one of the top five career highlights to happen to me.  Mary from the U.S. Naval Institute brought Major Norman Hatch (Ret) to give us the directors cut of his famous film that he made on the battle of Tarawa.  He held the microphone and watched the film play out telling us why he did a shot this way and little things that his still sharp eyes caught that we didn’t. 

His segment ended right before lunch, so we all moved downstairs to the restaurant in the lobby for some outstanding chow.  I was lucky and able to sit right next to him and realized that this was a time that I wish I had my digital recorder to capture his stories.  I did whip out a piece of paper and wrote on the back of an email from Major Pain as fast as I could, to copy everything he spoke about.

It went something like this, and pretty close to his story (I’m hoping):

Norman leaned forward and in a clear concise voice said,

“You know, it was D plus 18 (18 days after the battle of Iwo had started) and they sent me home with the film from the battle which included the flag raising.  This LtCol picked me up from the airport and told me that we were on our way to USMC Head Quarters (Henderson Hall Navy Annex) to see the CMC (Commandant General Vandegrift).  I thought this was great; I live about five minutes from there so how about dropping me off for a shower before I see the General? (Maj Hatch had just traveled for a couple of days from combat with all of his gear still on him- I’m thinking a shower would feel pretty good right about now)  The LtCol said nope, the CMC wants you now.  “I know General Vandegrift” Norm says “but I sure didn’t want to go in front of him looking like I did.”

We arrived and little did I know that I was about to be thrust into the middle of a major war between the Bureau Chief of Time Life and the Senior Vice President of A.P. news.  Everyone that knew about the Flag raising on Iwo Jima was either dead or wounded and Bob Sherrod had written a piece about Joe Rosenthal’s famous shot, saying it was a phony and staged based on half a conversation he had overheard, but he put at the bottom of the piece to check with A.P. on these facts before publishing.  The Flagship station at Time Life ran with the story before checking with A.P. which sent them into law suit mode to protect the future Pulitzer Prize picture from any scandal. 

The CMC leaned forward on his desk and said “Norm, would you iron this out for us.”

All eyes in the room turned towards me…

Norman Hatch then told the story of the flag raising and how Joe had his camera set and at the last second snapped the shot.  Bill Genaust, a Marine combat photographer, was next to Joe with his little color movie camera and captured the instantaneous flag raising  and the “Gung Ho” shot of the men afterwards as they posed for a shot, so that there could be no doubt that the photo was genuine or as Bob had said, staged or phony. 

The Time Life Chief said that they would issue and apology to the nation over this whole mess.  This was acceptable to the A.P. so Norman had settled the battle.

The CMC then said to the AP Vice President, “you know that shot could really help the Marine Corps with the 7th Bond Drive.”

A.P. Vice President, now nice and smug with his victory over Time life said “Sure, we’ll give you two duplicate negatives and you pay us a $1.00 for every 8×10 you use.”

Major Hatch smiled at this and said “The room went ice cold; you could feel it, because that means the Corps was looking at over a Million dollars they would have to pay to use the shot.”

The CMC said “Gunner, what do you think?

Major Hatch said “Sir, Bill Genaust was right next to him so we could take a still from his 16mm film and use that shot for the bond drive and it would be in color.”

The AP guy starts thinking, (Crap, two shots out there…we lose out on the credit) and says “I think we can give the Corps a 4×5 negative duplicate for no charge.”

The meeting ended with the CMC very pleased and Norm with a knot in his stomach.  He raced home and called his contact in Hollywood that developed Bill Genaust’s film from the Flag raising.  “Herb, have you seen the film yet?” Herb says “Yes”

Norman hoping that he didn’t make a statement that would get him trouble later asked “Is it good?”

The voice on the other end says “Yes!! It’s great.” I think this was followed by a “Thank God” on Norm’s part. 

It was a real honor to meet him and like I said, this now ranks up there in the top five cool things I have done in my career and hopefully I have relayed this conversation to you so that you could be there too.  He is one Helluva film man and Marine, who was side by side with our guys, fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. 

Semper Fi, Major Norman Hatch, you are one of my hero’s.


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