On 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: