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Sundance: Marines' remains at heart of 'Until They Are Home'

Published January 22, 2013 1:32 pm

Sundance Film Festival • A question — 'What are you going to do about all the dead guys?' — spurred new documentary.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"Until They Are Home" is a new documentary that tells the story of the World War II Battle of Tarawa and the U.S. military's 2010 attempt to recover remains of Marines.

The film isn't Sundance selection, but filmmaker Steven Barber is bringing it to Park City this week for two free screenings.

The documentary features "She Won't Let Go," a song by country singer Clint Black, and a score by composer Jamie Dunlap. It's narrated by Kelsey Grammer, and begins with an introduction by Barber and footage from a visit he made to the home of actor Eddie Albert in 1997, before Albert's death.

Albert was a hero of Tarawa, saving the lives of many fellow Marines. That chance meeting led to Barber's interest in the 1943 battle in which more than 1,100 Americans died over three days.

How did you become interested in the work of the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command, the military office that recovers remains of the dead)?

"Return to Tarawa" (his 2009 documentary) was the spearhead of the whole movement. When we got out there, we heard rumblings from the locals. They asked, 'What are you going to do about all the dead guys?"

How many U.S. Marines died and were left behind on Betio, the island in the Pacific?

There are probably 527 Marines buried there somewhere and another 3,000 or 4,000 Japanese.

How long did you film JPAC recovery teams and how many U.S. servicemen's bodies did they recover?

They found bits and pieces in six digs. The government (of the Republic of Kirabati) turned over two bodies, they were found when a sewer line was being dug. It's very populated with 50,000 people living on an island the size of Central Park.

Your film makes the point that it's a military ethic that everyone comes home. And yet they didn't coime home from Tarawa and other battles. Were you shocked to learn that?

This carnage was on a scale you can't even conceive. Five thousand guys would die, the Corps of Engineers would bury and go to the next battle. The government did disinter hundreds of thousands, but President Truman, in 1948 was given the advice 'We need to walk away from World War II now, we need to move forward. There was a bill passed to stop military repatriation, to stop looking for people.

Why should the United States repatriate remains in the ground for decades?

It's never been about the guys that are dead. It's about the people who are alive — families.

kmoulton@sltrib.com

Free screenings

When • Tuesday, Jan. 22, 7 p.m.; 6 p.m. cocktail reception.

Where • Montage Deer Valley, 9100 Marsac Ave., Park City

When • Wednesday, Jan. 23, 6 p.m.

Where • National Abilities Center, 1000 Ability Way, Park City

Info • To learn more about Barber and his film, visit http://www.vanillafire.com and http://www.untiltheyarehome.com