Dead Americans at Buna Beach

Behind the camera: George Strock
Where: Buna Beach, New Guinea (Now Papua New Guinea)
Photo Summary: Three American bodies lying dead in the sand next to destroyed landing craft
Picture Taken: December 31, 1942
First published September 20, 1943 in LIFE

The Battle of Buna-Gona was a grueling campaign to stop the Japanese advance across New Guinea. After months of difficult and treacherous fighting, the combined Australian and American forces were able to attack the Japanese bases near the small New Guinea village of Buna. It was here that the Reporter George Strock was able to capture this photo of three dead American soldiers on the last day of 1942. When it was finally published in late 1943 it was the first time in WWII any American media had published an image of dead American troops.

When I took pictures, I wanted to bring the viewer into the scene
-George Strock

Getting it past the censors


George Strock handed his film over the LIFE photo editors who then selected the best images for publication in the LIFE magazine. Strock’s pictures from the Battle of Buna-Gona were published by LIFE magazine in its February 15 and 22, 1943 editions.

The image with dead soldiers was at first blocked by the military censors but one correspondent in Washington named Cal Whipple saw the value in this picture and made it his mission to get it published. He would recall spending months going “from Army captain to major to colonel to general, until I wound up in the office of an assistant secretary of the Air Corps, who decided, ‘This has to go to the White House.’” It was there that the President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt, the War Department and the director of the Office of War Information, Elmer Davis gave their approval and allowed a LIFE to publish.

The picture was released in the September 20, 1943 LIFE issue with the following editorial

Here lie three Americans.

What shall we say of them? Shall we say that this is a noble sight? Shall we say that this is a fine thing, that they should give their lives for their country?

Or shall we say that this is too horrible to look at?

Why print this picture, anyway, of three American boys dead upon an alien shore? Is it to hurt people? To be morbid?

Those are not the reasons.

The reason is that words are never enough. The eye sees. The mind knows. The heart feels. But the words do not exist to make us see, or know, or feel what it is like, what actually happens. The words are never right. . . .

The reason we print it now is that last week, President Roosevelt and Elmer Davis and the War Department decided that the American people ought to be able to see their own boys as they fall in battle; to come directly and without words into the presence of their own dead.

And so here it is. This is the reality that lies behind the names that come to rest at last on monuments in the leafy squares of busy American towns.

First-Issues-of-Sports-Illustrated-Magazine-Mark-Kauffman

Bach’s Student, Mark Kauffman, took this photo at just 17.


George Strock

A native of Los Angeles George Strock went to John C. Fremont High School. While there he took part in a then-groundbreaking photojournalism course taught by Clarence A. Bach. Bach ran his high school program like it was an actual newspaper telling students to cover certain events and guiding them on what made a good shot, “look for the unexpected!” At just 17-years-old one of Bach’s proteges, Mark Kauffman, took a picture that ended up as the cover of the first Sports Illustrated magazine. Under Bach the Fremont High School photojournalism program launched the careers of no less than six LIFE photographers including George Strock. Throughout WWII about 146 of the students who went through Bach’s program became wartime photographers

After high school, Strock was a crime and sports photographer at The Los Angeles Times. In the late 30s, he married Rose Marie and with her had two sons, George and William.

In 1940 he joined the LIFE magazine team to cover the war. At first, he spent some time covering the European theatre before being sent to Australia in 1942. From November 1942 to January 1943 he covered the Battle of Buna-Gona where he took the famous picture of three dead soldiers. In late January he was sent back to America arriving in San Francisco on January 30, 1943.

He returned to cover the island hopping of the Pacific campaign and after the War worked at LIFE. HE never lost his touch and was able to get many cover shots on the LIFE Front cover. At the age of 66, George Strock died in his home city of Los Angeles on August 23, 1977.

More Images of World War II


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WWI Christmas Truce Football Match

Behind the camera: WWI Photographer
Where: Salonika, Greece
Photo Summary: Officers and men of 26th Divisional Ammunition Train playing football
Picture Taken: December 25, 1915

By Christmas 1914 World War I had been raging for months. The fighting saw the new industrial style of warfare involving machine guns that mowed down hundreds of soldiers in seconds. This meant that the men lived out of sight in wet, cold and diseased trenches. Soldiers huddled against the cold on Christmas were surprised when German soldiers starting singing. Allied soldiers sang back. Singing led to shouting, shouting led to brief encounters in no-ones land which led to a full-on truce and soldiers intermingling on both sides for much of the 1914 Christmas and Boxing day. Yet this picture didn’t take place in 1914 or even in Western Europe. This image is of officers and men of 26th Divisional Ammunition Train playing football a year after the Christmas truce, December 25th, 1915 in another theatre of war Salonika, Greece.

1914 Christmas Truce


British and German soldiers pictured in No Mans Land during Christmas Truce 1914

British and German soldiers pictured in No Mans Land


Six months into World War I the war was not going well for either side. Modern warfare meant that both sides had to hide in trenches from deadly machine guns that could put up a wall of deadly bullets blocking any attempted attack. Meanwhile, enemy snipers waited to put a hole in anyone exposing their head over the lip of the trench. Often the men, in their trenches, were knee deep in freezing water as they waited, never knowing when the other side would attack.

Facing the British in many parts of the Western Front were German soldiers who had often lived and worked in the United Kingdom. With good English, they sang to the British who replied in kind with Christmas songs of their own. Soon men infected with this Christmas cheer ventured above the trenches an action that just hours earlier would have meant a gift of a bullet in the head. The truce didn’t happen everywhere with some battles and the inevitable causalities even taking place on Christmas. Erik Sass tells us that:

According to British eyewitnesses, German troops from Saxony were often eager to fraternize, perhaps because of their shared ethnic heritage with the Anglo-Saxons, whereas Prussian troops were much less likely to make any friendly gestures, if only because they were under the stern supervision of committed Prussian officers. Meanwhile, on the Allied side, French troops were understandably also less inclined to fraternize with invaders occupying their own homeland – indeed, in some cases, their own homes. And regardless of nationality, some individuals simply seemed unable to put aside their personal hatred of the enemy. A Bavarian dispatch runner, Adolf Hitler, voiced strong disapproval of the truce, according to one of his fellow dispatch runners, who later recounted: “He said, ‘Something like this should not even be up for discussion during wartime.’”


The professional Indian soldiers on the front lines were horrified at their British comrade’s interactions with the Germans,

Belgian, Indian and French troops who witnessed episodes of fraternisation were at best puzzled and at worst very angry that British troops were being friendly towards the Germans.

While some French did observe a Christmas Truce after the war any stories of French soldiers taking part in the truce were censored and covered up.

In France, not a word was written on the subject. The newspapers had become tools enabling the army and authorities to spread propaganda. In the country that had given the world human rights, the press was no longer free.

Even in 2004 Frenchmen who took part in the Truce were still regarded as traitors and when a film producer asked to have French military cooperation in the remaking of the Truce for film, a vocal group vetoed the idea saying the French military would never be “involved in a film about rebels.”

Christmas Truce Football Match 1914 England vs Germany

Celebration of the football game using the photo from Greece 1915


The Football Game

A certain mythology has grown up around the Christmas truce and one of the more popular urban legends was that there was a semi-formal soccer match between the two sides. As Dan Snow tells us,

There wasn’t a single organised football match between German and British sides. There may have been small-scale kick-abouts – but these were just one of many different activities men took the time to enjoy.

This articles’ photo which is used quite extensively as proof that a game took place actually happened a year later on Christmas 1915, halfway around the world at a British base in Salonika, Greece.

During the 1914 Christmas Truce, instead of football, the men were more much more interested in recovering the bodies of their comrades which had often sat rotting away in no man’s land for months.

Famous pictures from Other Wars


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