It is an image that captured an epic moment in U.S. history – a sailor locked in a passionate kiss with a nurse in New York City’s Times Square at the end of World War II. And, after decades of dispute, the couple in the 1945 photograph were revealed to be 89-year-olds George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer Friedman. Now the couple who won the nation’s heart have reunited in the location of the famous smooch to reflect on the photograph that came to symbolize the end of the war.
‘It was the moment. You come back from the Pacific, and finally, the war ends,’ Mendonsa told CBS. Mendonsa told how he was on a date with another woman named Rita Petry at Radio City Music Hall on August 14 when news of the Japanese surrender was announced. ‘They stopped the show and they said, “The war is over. The Japanese have surrendered,”‘ he recalled. Mendonsa and his date, who would become his future wife, rushed to a nearby bar where the sailor admits he ‘popped quite a few drinks.’
As they set on their way, Mendonsa spotted a woman in a nurse’s uniform – he left Petry and rushed to grab her. ‘The excitement of the war being over, plus I had a few drinks,’ he told CBS. ‘So when I saw the nurse, I grabbed her, and I kissed her.’ ‘I did not see him approaching, and before I know it, I was in this vice grip,’ Friedman added. Of course, that moment of wild elation, gratitude and passion was captured by LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt.
Friedman recognised herself in the timeless photograph once it was published. ‘You don’t forget this guy grabbing you,’ she said.
But Mendonsa wasn’t so sure. A friend of his recognised the sailor’s picture on the iconic cover but Mendonsa took some convincing. ‘He says, “I know it’s you,”‘ Mendonsa said. ‘I said, “You’re crazy!” This was 1980, 35 years after the war ended. … So he brought the magazine over to the house and, the minute I looked at it, I said, “Damn. That IS me!”‘
He said the picture on his date’s face, who can be seen peeking just above his left shoulder, is proof that he is the sailor in the much-contested photograph. ‘A lot of people want to know what I was thinking,’ Petry told the Post. ‘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.’
Now married for 66 years, Petry insists that she has never been mad that on their first date her future husband grabbed another woman and passionately kissed her, reported the New York Post. However, she does admit: ‘In all these years, George has never kissed me like that.’ A new book entitled ‘The Kissing Sailor’ details how, in August 1945, Mr Mendonsa, 22, was on leave after surviving battles in the Pacific, where he watched nurses care for wounded sailors.
‘She was beautiful,’ he told the Post. ‘I think I fell in love with her the first time I…