George Strock was a photojournalist during World War II when he took a picture of three American soldiers who were killed during the Battle of Buna-Gona on the Buna beach. It became the first photograph to depict dead American troops on the battlefield to be published during World War II. Life correspondent Cal Whipple went all the way to the White House to get permission to print the image.
Strock got his start as a photographer while attending John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles. He studied photojournalism in a “groundbreaking course” taught by Clarence A. Bach.
After high school, Strock photographed Hollywood celebrities, crime and sports for the Los Angeles Times before joining Lifemagazine in 1940.
Strock (July 3, 1911 – August 23, 1977) was born in Dyersville, Iowa. He attended John C. Fremont High School in South Central Los Angeles where he studied photojournalism under Clarence A. Bach, who had begun teaching the first such course in the United States in 1924. He graduated from high school in 1928.
In 1931 at age 21 he was working with his brother in their father’s battery business. In 1936 he was listed in the Los Angeles city directory as residing with his parents and brother Edward at 328 W. 102nd Ave in Los Angeles but his occupation was now listed as “cameraman”.
Strock operated an amusement pier photograph concession and a baby portrait studio.
By 1938 he was working for the Los Angeles Times where he covered sports, movies, and politics. In 1939 he was listed in the Los Angeles city directory as a photographer for Modern Screen magazine. He shot images of the military at Fort Dix and Pensacola Naval Air Station and everyday civilian life.
He married Rose Marie in 1937 or 1938 and they had two sons, George and William.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor the Time/Life bureau in Los Angeles was short-handed and needed additional photographers. Fellow Fremont High graduate and photographer Dick Pollard referred Strock, and Life began giving him assignments. When Life needed additional photographers, Strock referred Bob Landry, who suggested other graduates of Fremont High, and over the course of the war a total of 146 of Bach’s students became wartime photographers.
After he was hired full-time, Strock was sent to the European front where he covered the Vichy French for a short while. He was known to drink excessively, and in 1942, after returning to the United States, he was assigned to join a convoy departing San Francisco for Australia. When he failed to appear, friends searched his favorite Los Angeles bars near his home in Hollywood without success. A day after the convoy sailed, an executive for the Union Pacific Railroad received a letter of commendation for a bartender aboard the train City of San Francisco from Strock, who had somehow sailed with the convoy.
He was assigned by Life to the Southwest Pacific Area of World War II. He covered the Battle of Buna-Gona from November 1942 to January 1943. Strock was nearly killed at least twice during his assignment on New Guinea in late 1942 and early 1943. “When I took pictures, I wanted to bring the viewer into the scene,” he told an interviewer.
In late January, 1943, Strock left Port Moresby with his negatives for Honolulu, but his plane was temporarily delayed when one of its engines struck a tree upon takeoff. The plane landed and mechanics removed debris from the engine before the plane took off again. He arrived in San Francisco at Hamilton Field on January 30, 1943.
Strock’s coverage of the Battle of Buna-Gona was initially published by Life on February 15 and 22, 1943, within a month of the battle’s conclusion on January 22. It included pictures of U.S. soldiers on the battlefield and images of dead Japanese soldiers. But images that Strock took of dead American GIs were not published because the U.S Office of Censorship prohibited their publication.
Life editorialized that “we think that occasional pictures of Americans who fall in action should be printed. The job of men like Strock is to bring the war back to us, so that we who are thousands of miles removed from the dangers and the smell of death may know what is at stake.”
Strock later covered the battle to capture Kwajalein Atoll and Enewetok Atoll during Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign during February 1944 and after the war continued to work for Life.