VJ-Day—Victory over Japan—is celebrated on 15 August, but jubilant celebrations erupted the day before the official end of the Pacific war.
When a sailor kissed an apparently unsuspecting nurse, a photographer took several snaps, one of which made the over of Life magazine and became one of the most familiar photographs of the entire war.
We know the name of the photographer: Alfred Eisenstaedt.
We know the location: Times Square
We know the date: 14 August 1945.
But who is the sailor?
And who is the nurse?
Eisenstaedt did not record the names of his subjects, and over the years several women and nearly a dozen men vied for the honors.
George Mendonsa, who died in February 2019, age 95, was probably the sailor, according to an extraordinary series of tests comparing his physical features with those on the photo. According to the New York Times obituary, Mr Mendonsa’s face was mapped in 3-D and reverse aged. Richard Benson, a Yale photographer and printmaker, “determined that Mr. Mendonsa’s specific features, like a cyst on his left arm and a dark patch on his right, matched those of the sailor in the photo.” Forensic anthropologist Norman Sauer “analyzed the photo and said he could not find a single inconsistency between Mr. Mendonsa’s face and the sailor’s.”
The woman is believed to be Greta Friedman, who died in 2016. When she was asked if she agreed with the view that Mendonsa has, in effect, sexually assaulted her, she explained that he was simply overjoyed because the good news meant that he would not be shipped overseas again. “The reason he grabbed someone dressed like a nurse was that he just felt very grateful to nurses who took care of the wounded.” She also said that it was not much of a kiss, although the photo suggests otherwise.
[A day after Mendonsa’s death was reported, the words “Me Too” were sprayed in red paint on the woman’s leg on the “Unconditional Surrender” statue in Sarasota, Florida
The statue recreates the embrace depicted in the photograph.]
At the time of the kiss, Mendonsa’s girlfriend, who later became his wife, was standing a few feet away, saw it all, and later married him. She survives him, along with a daughter and son, and several children and grandchildren.
Like many famous Second World War photos, the Times Square kiss has a book devoted to it:
The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo That Ended World War II (2012), by George Galdorisi and Lawrence Verria.