Hatch, Norman T.

Norman was born in Boston, Massachusetts and when he was 18 years old he joined the United States Marine Corps in 1939.

After basic training on Paris Island, he received a posting as an English instructor to teach English at the Marine Corps Institute in Washington. After this mission, he joined the staff of the famous Marines magazine “Leatherneck Magazine” and later transferred to the Navy Public Affairs office.

Norm wanted to become a cameramen and applied several times to go to the “The March of Time School* ”


* The March of Time is an American radio news series broadcast from 1931 to 1945, and a companion newsreel series shown in movie theaters from 1935 to 1951. The companion newsreel series to the “March of Time” radio broadcast was launched February 1, 1935, in over 500 theaters. Each entry in the series was either a two- or three-reel film (20 or 30 minutes).

As WW2 continued,Norman met Lt Alan Brown, a US Navy officer, who had worked as a director at the “March of Time” and was introduced to Louis De Roschmont, the founder and Producer of “March of Time”.  Three days later, Norman started his training, which would take six months. In order to graduate from the course, Norman had to make a documentary in New York City, captured in the 100 feet of available film the cameramen had. The film was a success and Norman graduated.

Together with his friend S/Sgt Johnny Ercole, Norman shipped out to New Zealand and worked for eleven months, covering training activities of the United States Marine Corps 2nd Marine Division *

* In 1940 the 8th Regiment was formed once more, in San Diego, California. It was the first Marine Regiment to deploy into the Pacific waters to Samoa. After ten months of jungle training, while defending the Samoan Islands, the Regiment sailed to reinforce the engaged 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal. In 76 hours of some of the bloodiest fighting in American history, the Marines seized that island and opened the door to the Japanese Empire. For its gallant performance, the 8th Marine Regiment received its second Presidential Unit Citation.

After refitting in Hawaii, the 2nd Marine Division sailed for the Marianas, to storm the beaches of Saipan and Tinian, capturing key bases for the air war against Japan. Reinforced with artillery, the unit later joined the 1st and 6th Divisions in the Battle of Okinawa.

Norman worked with the Bell & Howell 35mm camera ‘Eyemo’, carrying 100 feet of film. The camera was hand cranked.

“There were only two movie-men in the Division when we were training in San Diego, and this was a big war to cover; so I realized that we’d have to train more movie cameramen. Prior to leaving San Diego I had to go to Hollywood on a course, so I persuaded the Corps to let me buy all the 16mm Bell & Howell cameras that we could get, together with all the film; both color and B&W.

The camera had 3 lenses and 3 matched viewfinders, so what you saw was what you filmed. It was an auto loading camera, so was quick to load too.

We used these cameras to train more Cameramen, using B&W film that we were able to buy in New Zealand. We sent this to the Kodak processing plant in Australia for processing. During combat, most of the guys shot color film, but I shot mainly B&W as that was the standard film for newsreel and the motion picture industry back then.”

On the eve of the Battle of Tarawa*, Norman was in a small boat, bobbing in the waves toward the tiny Pacific Ocean atoll, together with Marines of the 2nd Marine Division. The small island — with its airfield — was held by the Japanese, and it had to be captured before the Marines could move on toward Japan.

* The Battle of Tarawa (US code name Operation Galvanic) was a battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II, largely fought from November 20 to November 23, 1943. It was the first American offensive in the critical central Pacific region.

During the Battle of Tarawa, Norman (by then a Staff Sgt) and other USMC cameramen would cover the fighting from the moment US Marines landed until the end.

What Norman Hatch remembers most of Tarawa was the overwhelming stench of the dead, and the thick black smoke. He had to change his shutter speed to adapt to the smoke — there were no automatic settings back then.

More than 1,000 Marines died at Tarawa during the 76 hours of intense fighting.

The Marines crept from bunker to bunker, while being under fire the whole time. They used flame throwers and grenades to force the Japanese out and into the open.

I was standing there,” Norman recalls, “photographing the Marines going to the top of that big sand blockhouse. Somebody said, ‘Here come the Japs!’ Two squads of Japanese came out — about 12 men. They were mowed down. I had the machine gunner right in front of me. It was the only time that the enemy and our forces were in the same frame.”

Norman was filming all this under extraordinary conditions. He carried a pistol — he fired it just once. He would crouch in a bomb crater and turn his camera toward the action. It was a very dangerous situation, he says.

After Tarawa had been taken from the Japanese, Norman Hatch’s film was transported to San Francisco and developed for newsreels. It was picked up by all five of the US newsreel companies, being accredited to Norman; which hadn’t been done before. The 16mm film footage was processed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

This footage was edited by Warner Bros studios in Hollywood into the short movie, called “With the Marines at Tarawa”*, a documentary that showed US audiences the true horror and intensity of the fighting in the Pacific. US President Roosevelt decided to release the movie, despite the hard scenes, to the public.  The result was that viewers in the USA massively supported the war in the Pacific.  It also honored the effort of Norman and his fellow cameramen while shooting during the Tarawa fighting.

* “With the Marines at Tarawa” is a 1944 short propaganda documentary film directed by Louis Hayward. It used authentic footage taken at the Battle of Tarawa to tell the story of the American servicemen from the time they get the news that they are to participate in the invasion to the final taking of the island and raising of the Stars and Stripes. The film is in full color and uses no actors, making it a valuable historical document. The documentary showed more gruesome scenes of battle than other war films to date. President Roosevelt himself gave approval for showing the film, against the wishes of many advisors.

 The documentary went on to gain an Academy Award for “Best Short Documentary”; just like Norman Hatch and Johnny Ercole had joked together all those years before.

Norman’s comment on this: “I didn’t win it. The Marine Corps won it.

Norman Hatch (by now he was a Warrant Officer) went on to film the fighting at Iwo Jima (“To the shores of Iwo Jima”), where he landed on February 19th 1945, where he stayed for 18 days, until he left for Washington on March 18th, 1945 in order to clarify the issue of the famous Joe Rosenthal’s photo of the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi *.

* The first flag raised on Mount Suribachi was covered by S/Sgt Lou Lowery, a combat photographer for “Leatherneck Magazine”. Norman himself was at that point working in his command post and did not see the first flag go up. He then heard the cheers and whistles across the beachhead and went out to see that Mount Suribachi was now in US hands and would not longer serve as an observation post for Japanese artillery that had been firing on their positions. The flag itself was a small one, so orders were handed out to go down to the beach to one of the ships to get a bigger flag “large enough that the men at the other end of the island will see it. It will lift their spirits also.” The question who then raised the second flag remains in dispute even today. In Norm’s book “War Shots”, in the “Raising Doubts” chapter this is clearly explained.

Norman recalls:

“My activities on Iwo Jima were different than Tarawa. I had now been promoted to Warrant Officer and was now the Photographic Officer of the 5th Marine Division.

As such I had 30 men, a mixture of cinematographers and still camera men. Also a camera repair man. On D-Day I was still shooting 35mm BXW with my trusty Eyemo as that was still the normal use in the commercial world. After I established my command post, next to Motoyama #1, the largest landing field on Iw, where I was kept busy administering the activities of my photographers.  I left Iwo on D+18 to carry motion picture film photographed by the three Marine Division cinematographers during the period between D+8 and 18 to Washington for the Joint Staff to see then get it to Hollywood, at Warner Bros. for editing. When the film from D+18 to the end of the battle reached Hollywood we quickly finished the film that became “To the Shores of Iwo Jima.” It was nominated for an Academy Award but did not receive one!” 

Norm then spent some time at the Naval Photo Center in Washington, processing film with former employees of Eastman Kodak. He then worked with Warner Brothers to work on the documentary “To the Shores of Iwo Jima”. Together with other Navy and Marine photo officers, they spent more than a month looking at 300,000 feet of color footage, taken by 106 combat cameramen. On June 7th, 1945 the documentary was released for nationwide distribution by United Artists.

 August 6th 1945, Norman returned to Honolulu for the serious work of the invasion planning. The upcoming invasion (“Operation Olympic”) meant that hundreds of cameramen, filmmakers, editors and support personnel were needed to support the expected invasion and the immense loss of lives. Norm was tasked to lead the 2nd Marine Division’s photographic services when the invasion would take place.

Prior to the invasion, while he had rejoined 2nd Marine Division in Saipan, he did a great job in setting up a field laboratory, supported by a great amount of “scrounging” of construction material…

That night, Norm was watching a movie in Pearl Harbor, when the projector stopped and despite a lot of yelling of the public, the news spread that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima that day. As no one knew what an atomic bomb was, they continued to watch the movie.  But the next morning, everyone knew that the planned invasion could be called off.  Three days later, the next bomb, called “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki.

Norm then received the order to document the outcome of the atomic bomb at Nagasaki. Although they wore dosimeters, they were not too concerned about the radiation under their feet.

This was followed by the occupation of mainland Japan (Nagasaki, September 1945), enabling him to discover the mainland and its people.

Norm retired from active duty on September 14th, 1946 as a warrant officer.

He finally retired from the USMC as a major in 1981, after serving for 41 years as a regular and reserve Marine.

Norman continued working and became Chief, Audiovisual Division at OASD (PA) and was during 15 years the senior audio visual advisor to the Secretary of Defense, as well as a consultant to the White House Press Office during four administrations and to the House and Senate Photo and Television Galleries in the National Capital.

Norman was also the “President of Photo Press International, Ltd.”, for over twenty years, producing editorial/commercial photography for foreign publishers and Director of “Pictorial Press International, Ltd”. He has more then 64 years of audiovisual experience and worked with “Time-Life”, “March of Time” in New York, at Warner Bros. Studios, 20th Century Fox Studios, Technicolor Labs and Disney Studios in Hollywood.

During my correspondence with Norman he pointed out the difference between the combat cameramen of the US Army Signal Corps and the United States Marine Corps:

“Incidentally you refer several times to a term that applies to our Army and that is the Signal Corps. The Marine Corps’s unit was the Photographic Services and our motion picture troops were called cinematographers.”

Norman currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia. His great book “War Shots” gives an exclusive and first-hand account of being a combat Marine cinematographer.

His military commendations and merits are:

1944 Navy Commendation for Tarawa

1945 Bronze Star for Iwo Jima

1946 National Headliners Award for combat photography in WWII

1979 Secretary of Defense Meritorious Award

Every year, the United States Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Foundation gives out the “The Norman Hatch Combat Photography Award”, in honor of Norman Hatch.


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