Operation Detachment: How can we remember what he have never seen?

Marianne Ingleby

2016 - Ongoing

'War is the best thing that happened to man', my grandfather Bruce declared once while we watched the news together. Being a child, I did not understand his comment and it fell into silence. After he died, my mother gave me a worn-out Kodak paper box with taped up sides, filled with the documents from his time as a US army war photographer on Iwo Jima, Japan. 'See what you can do', she said. Like with my grandfather, her comment was not elaborated on.

This Kodak box revealed to me the atrocities of war, in a way that I have never seen before. I only knew Iwo Jima from the famous Raising of the Flag image. A heroic image like no other, but when I put the tattered Kodak box away, I began to understand. The image I had of the Second World War was the censored one.

From the moment the archive was given to me, I started to study its content. After having found one of the most important historians on this topic, I learned that this archive was not only new to me. It was revealing a time period and level of brutal honesty that only the people who experienced it had seen before.

Operation Detachment is the title of the military mission my grandfather had to document. But it is about many forms of detachment. It is also about the detachment of narrative for soldiers who come home after combat. And about the detachment of my generation to our history, in a very definite form, a soon all the war survivors will have left us and we may only learn this history from the simplified iconic images in our history books.

It is my goal to reconstruct this archive and find out what it tells us today, to get a deeper understanding of the war through this unique documentation. I will travel to the National Archives of Maryland, to see the work of my grandfather that did pass the censorship requirements of that time. And I will travel to a Fifth Marine Division reunion, to have surviving veterans and their family members tell me their story and have them comment on the archive. Can I find people that are shown in the war pictures, from both American and Japanese sides, and hear their stories and take their portrait? My aim is to give the people a voice that perhaps did not have one before.

I have already traveled to Okinawa, where the battle commenced after Iwo Jima, that to this day is still a vital American military base ever since that war. Here, I took portraits and documented the harrowing stories of civilian war survivors and their family members, and the infamous suicide cliffs where civilians were forced to jump off.

War is the best thing that happened to man, my grandfather told me, but I also want to know, what was it like for women? As many of the pictures show the soldiers visiting brothels, something historians say they have also never seen before. In the right context and with respect to the people photographed, I want to show this aspect of the archive too. Because it shows what life was like during wartime for many people, and how many women resorted to prostitution in order to survive.

Also, the archive consists of a vast correspondence between my grandparents during the war. The dialogue reveals in an intimate way what this separation meant for two people, hoping to build a future. If the man can come back to war a hero from the 'Greatest Generation', what does the archive show us about the woman who had to endure the separation and the risk of combat for their loved one?

This grant will be used to partially fund further research in the National Archives and the travels to visit the veterans and their family members. As an artist, I aim to reconstruct, interpret and contextualize this archive through research, interview, text, my own photographic interpretation and film installations, which you can see on my website www.marianneingleby.com.

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  • Portrait of my grandfather Bruce Elkus, official Army photographer for the signal Corps on Iwo Jima 1945 on rare and original colour film.

  • A US fighter plane explodes, presumably Iwo Jima in spring of 1945.

  • Mass grave of US soldiers in spring of 1945 on Iwo Jima with Mount Suribachi in the background.

  • Soldiers from the 147th regiment bury the remains of some 7000 US soldiers who died on Iwo Jima. My grandfather had a very clear task description and this does not show the documentation of the mass burials. According the historians, these images are a rare uncensored view of what the war was like.

  • A war trophy made from human remains of an enemy Japanese soldier.

  • My grandfather Bruce Elkus in makeshift shower. The archive shows how everyday life continues under extraordinary curcimstances.

  • 147th regiment stare down a tunnel dug out my Japanese on Iwo Jima

  • Japanese woman in brothel in mainland Japan during American occupation.

  • American soldiers hold guard outside Japanse brothel in the maniland Japan, 1945.

  • Tomiko (87), Okinawa 2017, Marianne Ingleby. ‘In the caves where we hid I saw so much suicide. A father even killed his own baby. It was better to kill his own son that to surrender to the Americans, out of honor. I saw so many cases like this.’

  • View from suicide cliff, Okinawa 2017, Marianne Ingleby

  • Diseased cherry blossom, Okinawa 2017, Marianne Ingleby. The Japanese emperor Hirohito used the symbol of the cherry blossom to convince the kamikaze to commit suicide for their motherland. If they were to perish, they would be reincarnated as beautiful blossoms. To remind civilians of this divine sacrifice, many Japanese fighter jets had the symbol painted on the bottom of their airplanes. Many today are not aware of this symbol in wartime, even in Japan.

  • Hand censored letter from my grandfather to my grandmother while he was in the war in the Pacific.

  • Ayami (23), Okinawa 2017, Marianne Ingleby. Ayami, who ironically calls herself’ Army is in a relationship with an American soldier. She dreams of marriage and moving to the United States. Her relationship is kept secret from her grandmother.

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