Norm Hatch is arguably the most written-about Del Ray resident. His story has been told in outlets from "World News with Diane Sawyer" and the Richmond-Times Dispatch to the Old Town Crier. He is the subject of a book titled "War Shots: Norm Hatch and the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Cameramen of World War II." The Museum of Modern Art in New York City has featured interviews with him. He has his own page on IMDb.com. And his name is a part of the Academy Awards legacy.
Norm is one of the few remaining individuals of the Greatest Generation and a decorated World War II veteran, but it is his perspective on the war that makes his story so unique.
This particular Saturday, I visit Norm’s Del Ray home that sits atop Mt. Ida Avenue. An American flag and U.S. Marine Corps flag hang off the front porch of the home where he and his wife have lived for more than 50 years. Besides the two banners, you would not know that inside resides the person behind some of World War II’s most important documented images.
Norm was a combat photographer and cameraman in the Marine Corps. His films include some of the most priceless images of World War II, providing a first-hand perspective of the fiercest battles in the Pacific. Norm led the photographer division that took the iconic image used for the Iwo Jima Memorial. His film was used in "With the Marines at Tarawa," a documentary that won the 1944 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject. Rolls of his film work are housed in the National Archives.
Today, Norm is upbeat and lively. At almost 91 years old, it is nothing short of impressive. He can recall his time as a combat photographer with near picture-perfect detail—and perhaps that is to be expected from someone who saw the war from the front lines behind the lens of a camera.
Norm shows me around the basement level of his house where he keeps memorabilia and old magazines, much of it dating back 50 and 60 years. I find enjoyment in the sort of perfect juxtaposition of past and present in his house: Nestled among old black and white photographs sits an iMac. Between stories about a fishing village called Shimabara and the Battle of Tarawa, Norm talks about YouTube. It is clear that he is someone who has not only lived in several eras, but really lived as a part of those eras.
Norm takes me through the events that brought him to this role. As an 18-year-old, Norm joined the Marine Corps. After training at Parris Island, he served as an English instructor for the Marine Corp Institute in Washington, D.C., and later as a staff member at Leatherneck Magazine. But it was a special military motion-picture training program through the March of Time, the award-winning newsreel and documentary series produced by Time Inc., that led Norm to combat photography.
“When my boss heard that I was being reassigned [to March of Time] he said, ‘Norm, what the hell have you been doing?’”
Norm pauses with a mischievous smile.
“I heard that multiple times throughout my career.”
It was during his days at the March of Time that Norm learned what made good art. “I learned how to tell a story,” he says. “That was always first on my brain—tell the story.”
And that’s exactly what stayed on his mind as he carried 4,000 feet of film in four canisters on his belt in the middle of combat. I ask him what went through his mind in the middle of combat—after all, while he shot film, he was also shot at.
“I was thinking about getting the best shots. You don’t just rush up,” he says walking me through the process. “You take a wide shot, a short shot and then a close-up. I also tried to be up front for a better perspective.”
For Norm, there was a clear job to do. “You concentrate on what you were trained to do and you do it,” he says.
Of all the images he captured as a combat photographer, Norm tells me his favorite is film taken at the Battle of Tarawa. Norm was the first cameraman to storm the beach, giving him a unique perspective and the ability to film the action.
“It’s the first time we had photography of the enemy fighting us and us fighting the enemy in the same shot,” says Norm.
For Tarawa, Norm received a Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy in 1944. In 1945, he received a Bronze Star for Iwo Jima. Today, he has more than 65 years of experience in photography and public information.
Norm says the overarching philosophy he took through it all was not asking permission.
“I never asked permission. I did what I believed was right… and I apologized later if I had to,” he says with a laugh.
And thank goodness for such a philosophy. His work has brought us living images of history.