A Made for Television Film Project Proposal

Before Iwo Jima and before there was ever a D-Day at Normandy, the United States Marines wrote the book on amphibious assault at Tarawa.

Adm.Chester Nimitz

The bloody conquest of Tarawa in November 1943 by the newly created Central Pacific Force of World War Two, was the first trial-by-fire of Americaís fledgling amphibious assault doctrine against a heavily fortified objective. Described by one of the survivors as "a time of utmost savagery," the incredibly violent battle lasted for three days and left 6,000 men dead on an island no bigger than New York City's, Central Park.

Something is moving in our contemporary culture that has drawn great numbers to reexamine the World War II era. These pulses have risen up in forms of film, written word, and a national discussion. Besides a wealth of new information that needs to be integrated into the collective, another factor, equally compelling, difficult to quantify, relates to World War IIís, spiritual legacy.

I knew my dad was a Marine in the Pacific War. By todayís standards, we didnít grow up having a close relationship. He was introverted and hard working - a typical man in a sensible time, uncelebrated and competent, one brick in the wall. He returned from war to a nation where certainty was perceived as earned. I think he was lucky to have had certainty about some things.

The other certainty he had about himself, the other foundation of his life, was not a matter a matter of luck. It derived from his going to war and doing in fierce combat what was expected of him, and perhaps a little more. So for the rest of his life he knew he had taken the most essential test a man can take in life, and passed it.

I didnít know much about Tarawa but I knew that the mention of that small island brought a reverent hush to everyone in my family from that generation. Not until I went on a search of my fathers past did I discover the horror and honor that Tarawa symbolized.

I had discovered "my" fatherĎs war. A different war. A different spirit. A different kind of people. No one took a vote on whether it was a good idea to walk into fire. They just did it.

That spirit is leaving us now.

It is proposed that we venture forth on a made for television movie that will reenact the battle for Tarawa in itĎs full dramatic intensity: the decisions, miscalculations, extreme risks, lost opportunities, breakthroughs, and breakdowns. As the battle rages the narrative comes from the troops themselves; Japanese and American. A no quarters, no escape fight to the finish. A story that includes the phenomenal depictions of the four Medal of Honor recipients and how they won their awards and a special salute to the Rikusentai, the Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces who defended Tarawa to the last man; in essence, Japanís Alamo.

The cinematic telling of Tarawa offers a unique opportunity in that, it is structurally possible to tell the entire story of a World War II battle, beginning to end:

A battle of human and spiritual dimensions.

Stephen A. Rapp

Created 26 March 2000