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Behind the picture: 'Three Dead Americans,' Buna Beach, 1943

Guadalcanal. Iwo Jima. Saipan. These names and others from the Pacific Theater during World War II serve as a kind of brutal shorthand for scenes of unspeakable carnage and unfathomable courage. But for reasons lost to the decades, countless other pivotal battles in the Pacific have been largely forgotten. Here, LIFE.com recalls one of those pivotal battles.

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