If elementary school taught us one thing, it was American history: the Boston Tea Party, the Gettysburg Address. And oh, how our teachers loved Anne Frank.

Consequently, Dec. 7 has become an unofficial holiday as a commemoration of the military attack on the American naval base stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. World War II wreaked devastating havoc upon every nation and pulled young boys away from lives as normal citizens. Nearly two years after Pearl Harbor, U.S. troops were involved in what is known as the battle of “Bloody Tarawa” where the beaches of the island in the Pacific washed up body after bloody body.

In that November of 1943, Leon Cooper was a U.S. Navy landing craft officer who helped launch the first major amphibious assault on a Central Pacific Japanese stronghold. After over 60 years, Cooper returns to the beaches of the body-strewn battle with cameras in tow in order to learn more about reports of garbage on the fabled Red Beach.

Return to Tarawa, the 47-minute documentary follows the WWII veteran as he returns to the site of the horrific tragedy felt by both parties. Cooper walks the same sand he attacked so many years ago, only this time the hallowed ground is strewn with garbage rotting in the sun, an insult to the sacrifice his countrymen made for their country.

Cooper speaks with locals who collect “live” grenades, bombshells and other weaponry that have washed ashore since the tumultuous three-day battle in 1943. It’s an emotional trip, one that is especially tiresome and draining on an elderly Cooper, who is also the executive producer of the film.

One of the bloodiest three-day battles in American war history remains a vague imprint upon the island, a subtle reminder of the devastating impact the war had on land once considered tropical paradise. However, through actual file footage, audiences are taken back in time with Cooper as he visits what he suspects to be the graves of hundreds of marines still buried in Tarawa.

Directed by Steven C. Barber and narrated by Oscar-nominated actor Ed Harris, Return to Tarawa is a history-based trip into one man’s search for closure after decades of battling with the memory of the bloody incident. Though the documentary often lags in visuals as well as a compelling script, the film provides interesting facts and a touching look into one man’s search for answers.