Sailor in iconic V-J Day Times Square kiss photo dies at 95

Posted on February 19, 2019 by UNITED PHOTO PRESS MAGAZINE

George Mendonsa was 95 years old and was lusceptible. Photograph of Alfred Eisenstaedt became a symbol of the end of World War II.

George Mendonsa, the sailor whose photograph kissing a nurse became iconic, died on Sunday at the age of 95. The nurse, Greta Zimmer Friedman, had died in September 2016 but the image, captured by photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine, became one of the best known of World War II and shows the moment when Americans celebrate the announcement of the end of the bloodiest armed conflict in history.

The sailor was born in Newport, Rhode Island, in a Portuguese fishing family. He joined the US Navy in 1942 and, after serving in the Pacific for three years, returned home in 1945.

Mendonsa fell and had a seizure at the assisted living facility in Middletown, Rhode Island, where he lived with his wife of 70 years, his daughter, Sharon Molleur, told The Providence Journal.


Mendonsa was shown kissing Greta Zimmer Friedman, a dental assistant in a nurse’s uniform, on Aug. 14, 1945 — known as V-J Day, the day Japan surrendered to the United States. People spilled into the New York City streets to celebrate the news.

Mendonsa planted a kiss on Friedman, whom he had never met.

An iconic photo of the kiss by Alfred Eisenstaedt was first published in Life magazine and is called “V-J Day in Times Square,” but is known to most as “The Kiss.”

It became one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century.

Another photographer, Victor Jorgensen, who was in the Navy, also captured the moment in a similar photo. The moment has been shared widely and is often seen on posters.

Several people later claimed to be the kissing couple, and it was years before Mendonsa and Friedman were confirmed to be the couple.

Mendonsa served on a destroyer during the war and was on leave when the end of the war was announced.

When he was honored at the Rhode Island State House in 2015, Mendonsa spoke about the kiss. He said Friedman reminded him of nurses on a hospital ship that he saw care for wounded sailors.

“I saw what those nurses did that day and now back in Times Square the war ends, a few drinks, so I grabbed the nurse,” Mendonsa said, WPRI-TV reported .

Friedman said in a 2005 interview with the Veterans History Project that it wasn’t her choice to be kissed.“The guy just came over and kissed or grabbed,” she told the Library of Congress.
She added, “It was just somebody really celebrating. But it wasn’t a romantic event.”
Mendonsa died two days before his 96th birthday. The family has not yet made funeral arrangements.

Friedman fled Austria during the war as a 15-year-old girl. She died in 2016 at the age of 92 at a hospital in Richmond, Virginia, from complications of old age.Greta did not know George and did not even know her name. What he did in those few seconds in Times Square, New York, on August 14, 1945, only came back to him twenty years later, as he flipped through a picture book by German photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt. 

On August 14 of that year, George was in the first meeting with Rita, who later became his wife. The couple watched their lunch be interrupted by shouts of happiness. "So I came to Times Square, the war was over and I see the nurse," he told CNN.

"I had drunk a lot and it was instinctive," said George. The future woman saw the sailor kiss a stranger on the first date, but, he assured her, he was not annoyed: "I was there in the background, smiling like a fool. I did not care. " The nurse - who was actually a dental assistant - also recalled, six decades after the photograph, her version of the kiss: "Suddenly a sailor grabbed me. It was not so much a kiss, it was another act of celebration: he did not have to return to the Pacific, where he had fought. She grabbed me because I was dressed as a nurse and I was grateful to all the nurses.

It was not a romantic thing but a way of saying, 'Thank God, the war is over.' " After the photo, they did not change names or speak again. It was only in 1980 - when Life restarted the quest for the protagonists of photography, which became known as V-J Day in Times Square - who discovered who the true "nurse" was in photography.

Greta and George returned to meet in Times Square in 2012, 67 years after the moment captured by Alfred Eisenstaedt. It also took 35 years for the sailor to find out that the photojournalist had captured that moment.

Incidentally, the seaman's identity was, for a long time, a controversial subject. Only in 2012 an investigation gave as confirmed that it was George Mendonsa.

George Mendonsa poses in Middletown, Rhode Island in 2009, holding a copy of the famous Alfred Eisenstadt photo.
Photograph: Connie Grosch/AP