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Guadalcanal, 1942: Rare photos of the Pacific offensive

In February 1943, LIFE magazine published a series of photographs from Guadalcanal — the largest of the Solomon Islands and the site of the Allies’ first, pivotal offensive in the Pacific during World War II. See all the pictures at Life.com.

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U.S. Marines pass the time at Guadalcanal in 1942. On the 70th anniversary of the August 1942 start of that critical campaign, LIFE.com presents rare pictures from Guadalcanal ... and comments from the photographers who took them.
Joe Scherschel—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

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The original 1942 caption from Life magazine: "Barbed wire is carried forward. This will be useful, once a position has been secured, in defending it against further Jap [sic] attacks."

Ralph MorseTime & Life Pictures/Getty Images

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An iconic image from the war: the severed head of a Japanese soldier, propped up on a disabled tank. But did Americans place it there? In photographer Ralph Morse's recollections of that day, it seemed just as likely that the Japanese were the ones who placed the torched skull on that ruined tank as a gruesome trap for curious Americans.

Ralph MorseTime & Life Pictures/Getty Images

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Not published in LIFE. A Japanese truck captured by Marines is driven on a muddy road during the first Allied offensive in the Pacific, Guadalcanal, 1942.
Ralph MorseTime & Life Pictures/Getty Images

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Not published in LIFE. Guadalcanal, 1942.
Joe ScherschelTime & Life Pictures/Getty Images

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Not published in LIFE. A U.S. Marine on Guadalcanal plays taps during a service for the dead before leaving the island to the Army, 1942.
Ralph MorseTime & Life Pictures/Getty Images

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Not published in LIFE. Exhausted U.S. Marines sprawl on the beach while waiting for landing craft to take them off Guadalcanal following four months of fighting the Japanese.
Ralph MorseTime & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Guadalcanal, 1942: Rare photos of the Pacific offensive

In February 1943, LIFE magazine published a series of photographs from Guadalcanal — the largest of the Solomon Islands and the site of the Allies’ first, pivotal offensive in the Pacific during World War II. See all the pictures at Life.com.

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