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The Smooch that Ended World War II

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kissingOn August 14, 1945, President Harry Truman took to the airwaves to announce that Japan had accepted the terms of surrender and that the war was over. The news sparked spontaneous celebrations across the United States, including in Times Square where photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured a joyous sailor kissing a passing nurse. First published in Life magazine as part of a pictorial titled Victory, Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day in Times Square has since become one of the most iconic images of the Second World War. Although several people have claimed to be the kissing couple, their true identities were a mystery until the 2012 book The Kissing Sailor revealed the results of extensive forensic analysis which determined that George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer Friedman were the sailor and nurse in the photo. Interestingly, helping establish the identity of Mendonsa’s as the sailor is that fact that his future wife can be seen just over his right shoulder. The two had been out on a date when Mendonsa felt compelled to kiss the first nurse he saw in appreciation for what they had done for the wounded during the war.

Like Joe Rosenthal’s Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day in Times Square has been endlessly copied, reenacted and parodied.
Here are examples of the photo’s impact on pop culture:

kissin_1

The original: V-J in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt

TKSKissingtheWarGoodbye

Kissing the War Goodbye by U.S. Navy photographer Victor Jorgensen was taken at almost the exact same moment as V-J in Times Square, but from a slightly different angle.

U.S. postage stamp issued in 1995

U.S. postage stamp issued in 1995

Unconditional Surrender, a series of 25 foot tall statues by J. Seward Johnson, has been on display in Sarasota, FL, San Diego, CA and Hamilton, NJ. The version in Sarasota was damaged when struck by a car.

Unconditional Surrender, a series of 25 foot tall statues by J. Seward Johnson, has been on display in Sarasota, FL, San Diego, CA and Hamilton, NJ. The version in Sarasota was damaged when struck by a car.

Recreated with Lego by Balakov.

Recreated with Lego by Balakov.

The Simpsons episode, “Bart the General.”

The Simpsons episode, “Bart the General.”

By artist Juliana Coutinho

By artist Juliana Coutinho

Actress Anna Lynne McCord of 90210 posed as the nurse to kick of 2009’s “Kisses for the Troops” campaign.

Actress Anna Lynne McCord of 90210 posed as the nurse to kick of 2009’s “Kisses for the Troops” campaign.

Times Square Bite by Flying Mouse 365.

Times Square Bite by Flying Mouse 365.

The character Silhouette replaced the sailor in the opening sequence of the 2009 film The Watchmen.

The character Silhouette replaced the sailor in the opening sequence of the 2009 film The Watchmen.

Mosaic by artist Ingrid Pisano.

Mosaic by artist Ingrid Pisano.

Cake topper by weddingsculptures.com.

Cake topper by weddingsculptures.com.

Ben Stiller and Amy Adams (as Amelia Earhart) stepped into the photo in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009).

Ben Stiller and Amy Adams (as Amelia Earhart) stepped into the photo in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009).

Z-Day, available at Threadless.

Z-Day, available at Threadless.

Street art in New York by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra.

Street art in New York by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra.

Guy Gardner and Ice from the Green Lantern comic series.

Guy Gardner and Ice from the Green Lantern comic series.

V-J Day in Duckburg by Threadless.

V-J Day in Duckburg by Threadless.

A torso tattoo.

A torso tattoo.

Although it is one of Life magazine’s most famous photos, V-J in Times Square did not appear on the cover until 2005.

Although it is one of Life magazine’s most famous photos, V-J in Times Square did not appear on the cover until 2005.


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Categories: Military Personnel, U.S. Navy
Sam LaGrone

About Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the USNI Online Editor at the U.S. Naval Institute.
He was formerly the U.S. Maritime Correspondent for the Washington D.C. bureau of Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s Navy International. In his role he covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Sam is a 2003 graduate of Virginia Military Institute.