Buna was the site of a handful of houses, a dozen or so native huts, and an airfield acting as a trailhead up the Kokoda Track to the foothills village of Kokoda (see Kokoda Track campaign).
During World War II, Imperial Japanese troops invaded on 21–22 July 1942 and established it as a base (see Buna Airfield). Six months later, Buna was recaptured by the Australian army during the Battle of Buna-Gona on 9 December 1942 during the New Guinea campaign in the South West Pacific Area. The Fifth Air Force established air bases there as the Allied counter-offensive against Japan picked up the pace and continued operations to isolate the major Japanese base at Rabaul and attack Lae and points west. For weeks at a time General MacArthur used Buna as an informal forward base. MacArthur's biographer William Manchester relates a story Lt. General George Kenney, commanding officer Allied air loved repeating of how he'd gone back to Australia for a week, and MacArthur had stolen his house, claiming it was cooler at night than his own. A week later the Monsoon winds shifted, making MacArthurs' old house now the cooler—and he never asked for Kenney to switch back.