Corps Stories

Steven Barber: Return to Tarawa

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Steven C. Barber: Part 2

Film Director
Honors Hallowed Marine Ground

June 2012

(L to R: Fern Burford (Barber’s mother), Steven Barber, Norm Hatch, Tim Shelton)

If our fallen guide us from their Heavenly station, Steven Barber has the divine navigation of 500 angry angelic Marines whose rest has been recklessly destroyed. “I’m on a divine mission,” Barber said. Indeed, it appears he operates under celestial orders.

In July of last year CorpsStories first wrote about “Return To Tarawa”. An inspiring documentary brought by Barber’s serendipitous meetings with Marine, actor and Tarawa hero Eddie Albert, then with Leon Cooper, former Navy officer and Tarawa survivor.

At that time Barber was ready to present it’s sequel: “Until They Are Home”. All the interviews were in the can, but production costs waned.

What a difference a year makes.

Kelsey Grammar volunteered the entire narration. Clint Black wrote and performed a theme song. Businessman Tim Shelton backed the remaining production budget.

A Hollywood premiere at the Director’s Guild of America on Sunset Boulevard on Memorial Day packed the house; covered by national and international news outlets.

Appropriate matters are underway for Academy Award consideration in Best Documentary Film categories.

If Barber could bottle his 30-second pitch technique he’d have no need for production funding. His mastery landed aid from Shelton, who’s now part and parcel to Barber’s efforts. Shelton shared he found Barber’s story compelling, but after seeing the movie at the Hollywood premiere, “I was astounded.”

Shelton’s business style was ever-present excepting when his wife Vickie present new grandchild pictures. Relief spanned their faces since the eternal four hours since the last photos arrived. Their priorities in family and fortune are well-considered.

Fittingly, at the east coast premiere at a posh hotel overlooking Washington, D.C.’s skyline, Barber’s blue eyes are bright and betray his graying locks with youthful optimism. Presenting the movie during a private screening to the families of POW’s and MIA’s, a dry eye was not found.

One does not simply summons such advantageous resources and outcomes. Each arise from a alignment of opportunity and passion and commitment to mission. Barber seems to bring out the best in people; he transparently solicits engagement to his noble cause.

Not for the faint of heart. “Until” features America’s first live war viewing; defining truth to be stranger – and far more horrific – than fiction.

Footage from then Marine SSgt. Norman Hatch’s own camera forces us away from 2012 and onto a bloody beach in the south Pacific. Hatch shot the firing on; locking the merciless deaths of his fellow Marines in history’s sacred vault. Ultimately 6,000 were dead, five Japanese to every one Marine. Many of their corpses shown momentarily throughout.

Hatch’s work soon became a USMC feature documentary, “With the Marines at Tarawa” winning an Academy Award in 1945.

Such explicit footage is necessary to ground the viewer in enormity: more than 500 Marine’s graves are gone. Disappeared.Unaccounted for in an unconcerned municipality. Each were buried under appropriate conditions for the circumstance, immediately following the battle. Their final resting places were archived in military records. Yet Barber’s “Return to Tarawa” revealed their vanishing.

American Battle Monuments Commission was established by Congress, long before the Battle of Tarawa, in 1923. They have created and maintained, often in pristine quality, cemeteries of fallen US troops in foreign countries.

Such indicates Americans honor their dead and protect their interment, even overseas.

Outrage and despair are adjectives Marines, veterans, elected officials and family members have used learning of this ethical and moral catastrophe. Social conditions on the island, now overcrowded and shrinking due to higher tides, indicate little concern for those fallen nearly 70 years ago.

Where the matter lies is in the hands of a highly under-budgeted JPAC staff. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, part of the Department of Defense, are who went in valiant search for Marine remains in 2010.

How can Congress justify more JPAC millions when Marines, and others, are not even receiving health services they deserve due to budget constraints?

How can Congressmen and Senators pontificate on the importance of finding those who’ve fallen decades before most of their constituents were born?

They can, and they must. They must know what message,”we don’t always take care of our fallen” sends to those serving, and those who may serve. It alerts our heroes to the fact that their service may not have immeasurable value.

And it is just such officials who must make this choice,to make this matter a priority.

Should a reader want to send their thoughts to their representative on Capitol Hill, this link provides access to all members: http://whoismyrepresentative.com/.

General viewing of Until won’t be available until it’s purchased for release, excepting an expected showing at the Capitol, and in Chicago later this summer. Meanwhile Barber’s Facebook page for the film provides up-to-the-minute progress updates.

The film leaves viewers undone. Awaiting direction.Frustrated for the families. And grateful for the efforts of Barber and the many who’ve risen to this cause.

END