American Dead on Buna Beach

In this iconic photo by LIFE photographer George Strock, three Americans lie dead after they were ambushed by Japanese soldiers. Note Japanese landing craft and maggots on the corpse closest to the camera. The American advance on Buna was marked by green US troops failing to advance against the Japanese. In frustration, US Army General Douglas MacArthur relieved the commander of the 32nd Infantry Division, Major General Edwin F. Harding, and ordered US Army Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger to take charge. The 32nd fought hard in terrible jungle conditions and cleared Buna of Japanese resistance in early January 1943. The photo, taken in January, was censored until the September 20, 1943 issue of LIFE, when it was published as part of a larger publicity campaign to shock the American public, whom US President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed had become complacent about the war. Condemned by many and praised by veterans, the photo was not the first photo of war dead to be published, but was marked by the greatest controversy. Strock reportedly took the photo as part of a feature on a GI named "Bill" who was one of the three men killed.
Caption Written By: 
Jason McDonald
Date Photographed: 
Friday, January 1, 1943
Papua New Guinea