Many of you have seen the iconic image of a sailor sweeping a
nurse off her feet while they get lost in a kiss. We have all at
some point in our lives looked at this picture in awe as we admire
the two love birds celebrating the U.S. victory over Japan, also
known as V-J Day. It is one of the most enduring photos from the
20th century, signifying the end of World War II. But many of us
have wondered – who is this sailor and his beloved nurse? It turns
out there is a little more to the story than we thought.
The first thought, of course, is to ask the photographer himself to shed light on this mystery. Albert Eisenstaedt was a photographer for Life magazine, and the man behind it all. However, because of the chaos in the streets, he could not tell you who he captured on that victorious day.
Iconic photo known as “The Kissing Sailor” ... August 14,
1945 - The "Kissing "New York City celebrating the surrender of
Japan (VJ Day). Photo by Life magazine photographer Albert
Eisenstaedt ... courtesy of National archive (#80-G-377094) and
Naval Historical Center (#520697)
They Didn’t Know Each Other
Although the photo known as The Kissing Sailor was taken in
1945, it didn’t become popular until the 1960s. Before its fame,
editors already had discovered the woman in front of the lens – or
at least they thought they did. For years, the nurse was thought to
be a woman named Edith Shain, but in reality it was Greta Zimmer
Friedman, who was a dental assistant, not a nurse. It turns out they
had dressed very similarly. As soon as Friedman saw the picture, she
wrote to Life to make her claim. Even though editors believed they
had identified Shain, further research indicated Friedman was, in
fact, the true “nurse” in the famous photograph.
at the time, was working at a nearby dental office when she heard
that the war was ending. She walked right down to Times Square to
see for herself, and the rumors were true. Suddenly, she was grabbed
by a sailor and smooched on the lips. He was so happy he didn’t have
to go back to war, that he took it upon himself to show his
gratitude toward a nurse by planting a kiss on one. Friedman also
said she received a peck on the cheek from another sailor on the way
So Who Is the Sailor?
The happy sailor is thought to
be George Mendonsa, who was a Navy quartermaster on leave from the
Pacific theater. He didn’t see the picture until about 20 years
after it was taken. Multiple other men were thought to be the
sailor, but Mendonsa is the most well-known.
Why? It turns
out, there’s someone else in the picture – Mendonsa’s date, Rita
Petry, his future wife. They say she’s the woman “photobombing” the
pic from behind the sailor’s right arm, in about four snapshots that
were taken at different angles. She and Mendonsa were in Times
Square for the same reason as Friedman, and out of happiness,
Mendonsa grabbed what he thought was the closest nurse he could find
to celebrate. It was not a romantic gesture, but a celebratory event
that was taking place.
Did this eminent photo cause an end to
their relationship? Interviews with Petry claim that the kiss never
bothered her. It was just a happy day, she said.
the years, some 20 men have claimed to be the sailor, and three
women say they were the nurse. Though various accounts continue to
exist of this amorous moment, everyone is free to make up their own
What’s indisputable is that the war was over, victory
had been claimed, and this picture exemplified it perfectly.
By Molly Manuszewski
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