Tarawa has become a different sort of battlefield

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A Malibu man's personal crusade to clean up a trash-strewn beach 5,000 miles away will gain national attention this week when it is the focus of a cable television documentary.

For more than three years, Leon Cooper has sought to pressure authorities into removing litter from Red Beach on the Pacific atoll called Tarawa -- site of one of the United States' bloodiest World War II battles.

The beach, which Cooper calls "hallowed ground," has become a dumping ground covered by garbage, generated by the fast-growing population of the South Pacific island nation of Kiribati.

Cooper, 89, was a young Navy ensign who was commander of a group of landing craft that ferried U.S. 2nd Marine Division troops to Red Beach during the November 1943 invasion. During brutal fighting that lasted 76 hours, 1,115 Americans were killed and 2,292 were wounded. About 4,800 Japanese fighters also died.

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