Soldiers’ remains return from Tarawa 69 years after the battle

May 26, 2012

Patt in the studio with veteran Leon Cooper (C) and film maker Steven Barber (R).

Leon Cooper was a young Navy seaman who piloted a Higgins landing craft during the first Marine amphibious assault of the Pacific Theater in World War II on the island of Tarawa.

In three days of fighting, nearly 6,000 soldiers – both American and Japanese – died in the battle for the small atoll, earning the name “Bloody Tarawa.” Cooper was fortunate enough to survive, and was outraged to learn decades later that the beaches where so many of his fellow soldiers, seamen and Marines died were littered with trash. So, in 2008 Cooper mounted a self-financed campaign to return to Tarawa to clean up the beaches. When he arrived, he discovered something even more disturbing… that the remains of as many as 500 Americans who died in the battle might still be buried on the tiny island. A filmmaker, Steven Barber, accompanied Cooper’s journey and the story was made into a documentary, “Return to Tarawa.”

Four years later, Cooper and Barber have returned with a follow up documentary, “Until They Are Home,” which tells the story of the U.S. Government’s involvement in the retrieval and repatriation of the remains of American military personal who died on Tarawa.


Do soldiers ever recover from the scars of battle? What is the legacy of the brave men who fought in places like Tarawa?


Leon Cooper, World War II Navy veteran of the Battle of Tarawa; spearheaded the cleanup of Tarawa and the search for remains of American military personnel who died in the battle

Steven Barber, documentary filmmaker; director “Return to Tarawa” and “Until They Are Home”

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