George Strock (1911–1977) and the editors of Life
From Reporting World War II: American Journalism 1938–1944
Seventy-five years ago this week, Life magazine overcame government censorship and published what the writer and editor Ben Cosgrove has called “one of the most famous and influential photographs ever taken in any war.”
There are several stories surrounding the photograph taken at Buna Beach, all equally compelling. The most famous is the nine-month effort it took to get permission to publish it. The Office of War Information prohibited American publications from printing photographs that showed dead American soldiers. (Photographs deemed unacceptable were sequestered in a cabinet that War Department officials called “The Chamber of Horrors.”) Yet the bureaucracy, and President Roosevelt himself, began to rethink the policy when Americans became increasingly apathetic about a war most people believed was going well for the Allies.
Not as well known is the considerable danger (including two brushes with death) Strock put himself through when, unarmed, he embedded himself with American forces to capture pictures at Buna. Also fascinating is the reaction—mostly positive—of readers clearly shaken by the image.
Strock’s photograph was accompanied by an editorial explaining LIFE’s decision to publish it, and we present both essay and image as our Story of the Week selection, along with an introduction detailing the stories about the photo.
Full text of the image above: “PART OF THE PRICE FOR BUNA VICTORY / New Guinea. . . . Three dead Americans lie on the beach at Buna, New Guinea, after the Battle of Buna Gona in January, 1943. The picture had been held up in Washington and has just been released under the new ruling of showing American dead. The Japs hid in the wrecked landing barge and used rifles and grenades on the American as they were mopping up on the last day of battle. The barge and beach action was the bloodiest and wildest of any Buna fighting.”