The picture of a nurse and a sailor kissing in the middle of Times Square while people around them were smiling just after the announcement that the war with Japan was over— seemed to be a picture of perfect timing. It turned out it was a husband and wife in the photo, only that the wife was not the nurse.
The iconic photo, officially titled “V-J Day in Times Square,” was taken on Aug. 4, 1945, by photographer and photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt. On that day, he was photographing spontaneous events as people celebrated the official announcement of the end of the war with Japan.
Here’s Alfred Eisenstaedt’s account on one of his two books entitled “V-J Day in Times Square“:
In Times Square on V.J. Day, I saw a sailor running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make a difference. I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder, but none of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse. If she had been dressed in a dark dress, I would never have taken the picture. If the sailor had worn a white uniform, the same. I took exactly four pictures. It was done within a few seconds. Only one is right on account of the balance. In the others, the emphasis is wrong — the sailor on the left side is either too small or too tall. People tell me that when I am in heaven, they will remember this picture.
The Search For the People
So Eisenstaedt didn’t have the chance to ask who these two people were, so Life Magazine asked the photo’s subjects to step forward. Decades later, a woman claimed to be the nurse in the picture. After that, a few more women claimed they were the woman in the photo, and many men claimed to be the sailor.
After a thorough questioning, analysis, and investigation from authors George Galdorisi and Lawrence Verria, who published their background study on their book, The Kissing Sailor, it was concluded that the woman was Greta Zimmer Friedman, and no, she wasn’t even a nurse.
Greta worked as a dental assistant at Dr. J. L. Berke’s dentist office in Lexington Ave. There hadn’t been an official announcement yet that day, but the rumor that the war was over had been buzzing all day. Friedman didn’t want to get her hopes up just yet, in case the rumors turned out to be not true. In the afternoon, she decided to go and check the latest news herself, so she walked towards Times Square. Sure enough, all the electronic tickers around her were nothing but “V-J DAY, V-J DAY.” The next thing she knew, she was grabbed by someone on the wrist and pulled in for a kiss.
She told Veterans History Project, “It wasn’t that much of a kiss, it was more of a jubilant act that he didn’t have to go back, I found out later, he was so happy that he did not have to go back to the Pacific where they already had been through the war. And the reason he grabbed someone dressed as a nurse was that he just felt very grateful to nurses who took care of the wounded.”
The Sailor and The Girlfriend
As for the sailor, it was identified to be then-Navy Quartermaster 1st Class George Mendonsa who was on a 30-day leave from his ship. He and his then-girlfriend Rita Perry (whom he would marry later) were on a date to watch a film. They were interrupted by a movie a theater employee who pounded on the entrance door to announce that World War II was over. The crowd cheered, and they all went out. George and Rita decided to celebrate at a restaurant where drinks were “On the house” in celebration.
With bliss fueled by alcohol, they went to Times Square to celebrate with everyone. His uncontained happiness and energy made him spontaneously kiss Greta. Rita could actually be seen smiling over George’s right shoulder. As for what she was feeling that day, she said in an interview, “It was a happy day; I was grinning like an idiot. The kiss really didn’t bother me at all. If I had been engaged, maybe.”
Before you think ill of George for kissing another woman in front of his girlfriend you might consider this. George and Rita would get married and stay together for seventy-two years until he died in 2019 at the age of ninety-five.
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