back to top

28 Of The Most Powerful Pictures From World War II In The Pacific

A look back at the Greatest Generation, presented by Getty Images.

Posted on

On Oct. 20, 1944, Gen. Douglas MacArthur waded ashore to the Philippines island of Leyte with the declaration, “People of the Philippines, I have returned!”

Nearly two years earlier, MacArthur and his family had been forced to flee the Philippines as an invading Japanese army took hold of the region. To the thousands of Filipino and American personnel left behind, Gen. MacArthur vowed, “I shall return.”

Despite the return to Leyte, the road to victory in the Pacific would be one of struggle, sacrifice, and unimaginable horror. Here are some of the most compelling images from the Pacific theater of World War II.

Universal History Archive / Getty Images

Dec. 7, 1941: In a surprise attack on the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor, a force of 353 Japanese aircraft killed 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians; 129 Japanese soldiers were killed.

On April 9, 1942, approximately 75,000 captured US and Philippine troops were forced to march 65 miles from Mariveles to San Fernando, in what became known as the Bataan Death March.


The following months proved to be among the most bloody confrontations of World War II.

Frederic Lewis / Getty Images

American Marines approach a group of Japanese-occupied buildings, reduced to rubble during the Battle of Tarawa, a Pacific atoll in the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati), in November 1943. In the background, smoke is rising from an oil-dump hit during the shelling.

W. Eugene Smith / Getty Images

A US Marine is seen cradling a the barely living body of a tiny infant, who was found facedown in a cave where native islanders had been hiding to escape the fighting between US and Japanese forces.

A weary and exhausted Marine weeps amid the rubble after the tough battle for Hill 200 Near Peleliu Airport in August 1944 (left); a group of Marines look on as Saipan civilians choose suicide over surrendering to American troops.


A Marine advances under Japanese fire on Okinawa in 1945 (left); a grizzled and weary US soldier is seen smoking a cigarette during the final days of fighting to gain control of the island of Saipan in July 1944.


US Marine Cpl. Robert Borrell is seen firing a 50-caliber machine gun inside a bomber over Papua New Guinea, 1943 (left). After a raid on Rabaul, crewmen lift an injured Kenneth Bratton out of the turret of a TBF on the USS Saratoga in the Pacific, November 1943.

Mpi / Getty Images

Cruiser USS Santa Fe passes alongside Essex class aircraft carrier USS Franklin, which had just been hit by a Japanese dive-bomber, setting off an ammunition store and killing 724 sailors.


On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States detonated an atomic bomb over Hiroshima and a second over Nagasaki on August 9. Six days later, Japan announced its surrender to the Allied forces.

Galerie Bilderwelt / Getty Images

A man with burns over his entire body is treated at the Army Transport Quarantine Station on Ninoshima Island 1945. This man was exposed within 1 kilometer of the hypocenter of the atom bomb dropped on Aug. 6. Persons so close to the hypocenter who received direct heat rays suffered skin-destroying burns and damage to their internal tissues and organs. Most died immediately or within a few days.

Interim Archives / Getty Images

Silhouetted against the light of a Pacific sunrise, a Coast Guardsman stands in quiet reverence beside the graves, marked with crosses, of comrades who gave their lives fighting for an atoll in the campaign for the Philippines, 1944.


BuzzFeed's resident photo geek.

Contact Gabriel H. Sanchez at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.