America’s Shame


“Mr Cooper Goes To Washington” might be a better title for my article.
I’m going to Washington to arrive at Washington National Airport on December 7, 2008 because the best way of getting action is with a face-to-face meetings with key government officials. The more than 100 letters, faxes and emails I’ve sent to the “usual suspects” during the past three years have simply been ignored.

Here’s what must be done:

1.Repatriation of the remains of the 139 American dead, including Lt Bonnyman, a Congrsssional Medal Honor winner. There may be upwards of 300 more who still lie where they fell during the battle of “Bloody Tarawa,” a three day battle. starting on November 20, 1943, which took the lives of more than 6,000 men. More than 1,000 American Marines died during the battle; an additional 2,000 were wounded. The only effort our country has made to recover and repatriate our American dead took place in 1946 when, after a six month’s investigation of burial sites on the island, the Army Quartermaster Corps filed a report in July, 1946, stating that “About fifty per cent of the bodies previously reported buried on Tarawa were found, and of that number, only 58% were identified.” No further action has been taken since by our government, despite the shocking statement just quoted.

Several private organizations, self-financed, have joined to undertake an exhaustive, methodical investigation–using sophisticated devices– of the dead Americans in Tarawa, and have announced the names and locations of 139 American dead, including Lt “Sandy” Bonnyman, one of the four Congressional Medal of Honor winners of that battle. Repeated efforts by these organizations to get our government to undertake this important investigation have been ignored, just like my letters.

These oprganizations have still more work to do at Tarawa. After that battlefield investigation has been completed, their plan is to go on to battlefield sites on other Pacific islands. More than 72,000 MIAs of WWII are still unaccounted for, according to the US Department of Defense, at least 50% of which are in a number of Pacific islands, including Tarawa. There was a great hue and cry about the MIAs of the Viet Nam war, with good effect. WWII MIAs are far greater in number. But worst of all, this has continued all these years–without any of the publicity this disgrace deserves

2. Removal of live ammunition, mainly ours, is scattered throughout this tiny, densely populated, island: Australia has sent a bomb demotion group to remove these dangerous devices. America is not participating. It’s not known how many Tarawans have been killed or wounded by our callous indifference tio this condition.

3. Garbage should be removed from Red Beach–tons and tons of it. I visited Red Beach in Tarawa this past February and was shocked to see how much garbage, including soiled baby diapers, lies on Red Beach–the same stretch of beach where I saw scores of my countrymen fall under murderous Japanese gunfire. It was my job as a Navy landing craft officer to bring these assault troops on to Red Beach. I made several trips, each time becoming overwhelmed with emotion as I watched the slaughter. Later, I had the sad duty of taking the wounded back to my ship for medical treatment. Some died in my boat during the long trip back to my ship. Unlike later invasions there was no Navy hospital ship standing by, with the special skills required to treat trauma, including the many kinds of battle wounds inflicted on the Marines during the three days of savagery that was called “Bloody Tarawa.”

I’m attempting to line up meetings with key government officials for my visit in Washington in the week starting December 7, Pearl Harbor Day, with dismal results thus far. Of my two US Senators: Feinstein says she’s too busy to see me; Boxer has ignored my letters and emails altogether.

I took a camera crew with me to Tarawa to film my visit, including the desecration of hallowed ground on Red Beach where much of the killing took place. I was filmed talking to a number of people about the American dead still in Tarawa 65 years after the battle, including the President of Kiribati (Tarawa is in Kiribati) and his key ministers. My visit is captured in a documentary soon to be released: “Return to Tarawa-The Leon Cooper Story.” Narration is by movie great Ed Harris. Two TV channels have expressed interest. A major national magazine wants to review the film.