The kiss sailor and other 3 Portuguese heroes of World War II

Posted on February 28, 2019 by UNITED PHOTO PRESS MAGAZINE

Mendonsa with the photo that made him famous. 
Alfred Eisenstaedt photographed the Portuguese kissing nurse 
Edith Stain on the day of victory over Japan.
A Portuguese was the protagonist of the most famous photograph of the end of World War II. George Mendonsa (who died on Monday) had documents that prove it. This is the starting point for these stories of Portuguese-American veterans. George Mendonsa shakes his 88 and jumps off the couch, needs to show something and it has to be now. 

He walks down to the dark basement of his home in Middletown, Massachusetts, opens the drawer of a desk and grabs a sheet. Lights a lamp and the light illuminates a black and white image.

A sailor kisses a nurse in Times Square, New York, on August 14, 1945, the day World War II ended. It is the photograph of Kissing Sailor, which was featured in Life magazine and 90 other publications around the world. The nurse is Edith Shain, who died in June last year at age 91, due to liver cancer. As for the sailor, in profile, denying the photographer's face, his identity remains a mystery.

That's what George needs to tell: he knows who that man is. The son of Madeiran now shows four different photographs, where you can see a beautiful brunette behind the kissing couple. The veteran explains that the name of the unknown is Rita Petry and begins to draw their relation with this image: this woman, who does not occupy the center of the gaze, was her companion that day. George abandons the images and grabs a dossier from 2005 with the seal of Naval War College. 

It is an investigation conducted at the Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab (MERL) in Cambridge, led by the specialist in photographic analysis and former rector of the Yale University School of Arts, Richard M. Benson. Throughout several pages, one sees images of a tattoo and a scar to be compared with two shadows on the sailor's arms. Then, colorful, three-dimensional images of a skull. On the last page, one concludes "with a reasonable degree of certainty" that the bearer of the tattoo and the scar is the sailor of the photo.

George rests the file and rolls up his sleeves. There is a scar on one arm; on the other, a G and an M, their initials. There's no doubt. George is the sailor.

It's a magic moment. In front of us materializes a hidden reality for decades. Even George had to wait 35 years for a similar moment. It was only in 1980 that a friend asked him where he was on August 14, 1945, and he showed an edition of Life in which the editors of the magazine revealed the identity of the nurse and asked the sailor to identify himself. George did it immediately. He and at least ten other veterans. The magazine decided to be careful and did not identify the sailor. But George was always sure it was him, so he ordered the study from the Cambridge laboratory.

In the basement of the house where he lives with his wife, George holds the photograph again with his big hands - the same hands that support the nurse's body - and says: "Whenever another man says he is the sailor, my blood boils . " He raises his eyes and, about to leave the body in an almost lost, almost lost time, promises: "This is my story."

George enlisted to go to war on March 26, 1942, when the shock waves of the Pearl Harbor attack had already reached Newport, on the west coast of the United States, where the young, timid fisherman worked. George spent summers with his Madeiran parents and his brothers on a tiny island near the coast that they named "Portugese island."

"I was 19, those who died in Pearl Harbor were my age ... after the attack that all the boys wanted to go after the Japanese, we wanted to hunt them"

"I was 19, those who died in Pearl Harbor were my age ... after the attack that all the boys wanted to go after the Japanese, we wanted to hunt them down," he recalls. "I was raised in the water, had been at sea all my life, I decided to go to the Navy." For six months he learned how to fly a ship and how to communicate it through light signals.

The first missions in which he participated were coast patrol and training. "On the first day at sea off California, I woke up at midnight to complete my shift. I get to the deck, everything was flooded, the sea came in, and they were all sick and vomited."

When they reached Pearl Harbor, they joined the Fast Carrier Task Force, consisting of three cruisers, three battle ships and about twenty destroyers, the first line of defense of the main target of the enemy: the four aircraft carriers that followed in the center of the group. George embarked on one of the destroyers, the USS The Sullivan, baptized by sailors as "The Sully." The ship had been named after five Iowa brothers who had died aboard the USS Juneau, sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal months before.

Commander Gentry Kenneth led them in a victorious campaign across the Pacific from the Marshall Islands to the Philippines. The first 4th of July, George's Independence Day, since being boarded was spent bombing Iwo Jima. In December of the following year it faced a hurricane, three destroyers were shipwrecked, but "The Sully" survived and in 1945 was near the coast of Japan, in the Chinese Sea, to support the bombing of Hong Kong, Okinawa, Tokyo and Honshu.

On May 11, the Pacific was conquered. Confidently, the group parked 60 miles from the coast, but that night - "they always attacked at night ..." - suffered a surprise attack. The target was the USS Bunker Hill, the heart of the fleet. Two Japanese kamikaze pilots drove their aircraft into the dark hull of the aircraft carrier and disappeared into a sea of ​​flames. "The airplanes on the deck were full of fuel and they exploded, the men started jumping out of the flames, and we saved a few hundred," George recalls.

Under the firelight of that night, the tall, corpulent Madeiran gathered the shipwrecked and delivered the wounded on a hospital ship. He did not realize whether it was the smell of phosphorus or the taste of metal on the surface of the tongue, but he was overwhelmed by the feeling that time was running out and that everything around him dissolved to highlight the clear profile of the nurses - the lines of his white uniforms, the fine gestures wiping the sores of the wounded and the warm touch in the hand of a burnt that held him to life. These images, he realized later, had to be hidden inside him until the end of the war. Waiting for the moment of revelation.

A month later, the fleet had "sunk the Japanese, the only thing missing was the occupation by the army." George left the Philippines and spotted the American continent on July 10, one year and eight months after his departure.

"The Sully" had been 64 days without anchoring and had only one casualty, when the commander had sent some men to an island in the Philippines to confirm if any Japanese had survived. "They left the boat on the beach and one of them kept it. When the others returned, it was gone." The body was later found.

George received 30 days of leave to visit his family and ten days to travel. He packed his bags and left for Newport. On his way home, he met Rita Petry, an American cousin of her younger sister's husband, who was also visiting. "She was 20 and beautiful," he recalls, George began to court her, but a week later the girl returned to New York. George decided to spend a day in the great city when he returned to California at the end of his leave.

On August 14, the couple were watching the Rockettes show at Radio City Music Hall as people started knocking on the doors and windows of the concert hall. His gaze touched Rita's, and each one tried to discover in the other what was happening when the doors were opened and a cry ran through the room: "The Japanese surrendered, the war is over!" The room erupted into applause, and no one looked at the dancers onstage.

George and Rita headed for Times Square, the heart of the city, where celebrations were held. It was two steps away. "It was full of people, thousands and thousands of people," George recalls. The sailor partied at Child's Bar, a well-known neon-lit bar on a corner. "I drank too much," he confesses. "The bartender put a row of glasses on the counter, grabbed a bottle and filled the glasses, we drank, he grabbed another bottle and we drank again."

The party was good, especially for George, but he needed to get to the airport to pick up the one-hour call to San Francisco. He started walking with Rita to the subway station, in the midst of the bustling crowd of Times Square. Near 45th Street he recognized a white silhouette, the same gentle gestures that had taken care of his wounded comrades, the same comforting warmth. Drunk with the alcohol and the memories that flooded him, something loosened within him. George grabbed the unknown nurse and kissed her.

Time has stopped. For George. And for the world.

For George, that kiss was the wounded of the attack on the aircraft carrier he had helped months before, were his parents, the children, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren he was to have. There were all your yesterdays and all your tomorrows. To the world, there were all the powerful and defenseless, all the kamikaze and civilian victims, all the men and women touched by that war. In those two glued lips were the whole world and its celebration at the end of the most deadly conflict in history.

A photographer carried a button and a flash of white light made George a symbol.

The sailor did not notice anything and left Times Square without exchanging a word with the nurse. At the airport he said goodbye to Rita, who would never see her again. When he got into the plane, he could see only the banal profile of his blue uniform, but George lived in eternity.

In Alfred Eisenstaedt's laboratory in New York, the photographer revealed his negatives and a picture stood out. It has been chosen for a prominent place in the 12-page work of Life's special edition of "Victory." In the same issue there were other couples kissing, from Florida to Seattle, but it was the gesture of that sailor and that nurse who became eternal. A man, a woman, and the earliest of gestures became our most intimate connection with what happened that day.

From the War of Independence to the Iraq War

The participation of the Portuguese in the military ranks of the Americans began even before the United States was an independent country. Peter Francisco was born on the island of São Miguel in the Azores on July 9, 1760, but he was abducted by pirates and taken to the other side of the Atlantic as a child. Already an adult, six-hundred-pound, he would eventually become a legendary soldier during the War of Independence (1775-1783) against England, to the point that President George Washington declared at the end of the conflict: Without him, we would have lost two crucial battles, perhaps the war, and with it our freedom. He was truly an army of one man. " These words now rest on a monument at Peter Francis Square in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

During the War of 1812, a group of Portuguese came to found a company to counteract the reluctance of the National Guard to accept immigrants in their ranks. During the Civil War (1861-1865), a regiment of New York included a company formed only by Portuguese and Spanish. Judah Philip Benjamin was a minister of the Southern War during this conflict and was a descendant of Portuguese Sephardic Jews. At the end of the war, he was senator and member of the Supreme Court. Francis Barretto Spínola was a general and ended up being the first Portuguese-American elected to the House of Representatives.

In the Great War (1914-18), it is estimated that about 15,000 immigrants enlisted and many of them eventually mobilized. On December 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Charles Braga became the first Portuguese casualty in World War II (1939-1945). Today, it gives the name to Braga Bridge, that crosses the river Taunton in Massachusetts.

The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest distinction that can be attributed to a soldier and has already been handed over to many Lusodeans. The first was Corporal Joseph H. de Castro, who distinguished himself at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. France Silva was a crew member of the USS Newark and received the Medal of Honor for his heroic behavior during the Boxer War in Beijing, in 1900.

In the Portuguese book in Vietnam, by Eduardo Mayone Dias and Adalino Cabral, the authors admit that there are 100 Portuguese names at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, which records the name of the 58 195 soldiers killed during this conflict.

Since 2002 foreigners entitled to residence in the country can claim US citizenship after one year of military service. According to the latest available data, Hispanics (including the Portuguese) already represent 12% of the American military.

Manny Martin, the survivor of Pearl Harbor.
On the website of a Portuguese community newspaper, the Portuguese Times, it is possible to read a description of the funeral of David Marques Vicente, Corporal Marines, who died in Iraq in 2004, at the age of 25. Days before the funeral, his parents went to the consulate of Portugal in New Bedford to ask for a flag. The consul satisfied the request, but asked that the flag be returned, thinking that it would be used only during the ceremony. It was at this moment that the soldier's parents explained to him that the Portuguese flag would accompany David forever inside the casket.

Manny Martin, the survivor of Pearl Harbor

Manny Martins

The Portuguese presence in this photograph is a sign of another, very important one: that of the Portuguese who fought in the American forces in World War II, from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. On the night of 6 to 7, Manny Martin had fulfilled a shift, and breakfast in the first shift in the morning as they set the rules for the Pearl Harbor military base in Hawaii. As she ate creamed beef on toast, a roar ran through the walls of the canteen, as if something were dragging her nails into a picture on her way from heaven to earth, and a burst of seismic force shook the walls of the canteen. It was 07:48. Manny hurried to the doorway, his shotgun resting on his right shoulder, looked straight ahead, looked up at the sky, and spotted a plane.

"What plane is this?" Asked a colleague at his side. "You fool, do not you see a great rising sun? It's the Japanese!"

Thus began World War II for the United States.

Manny Martin was the name he wrote when he enlisted, but at Westport, Massachusetts, where he lived with his parents and "grandma," his name was Manuel Martins. By the early twentieth century, parents had left San Miguel on a steamer and landed on Ellis Island, New York. On that island, Manny's father defined his fate when they handed him a broom. He turned down the work and, pointing to some machines, said, "This is going to break and I'll fix it."

"What plane is this?" Asked a colleague at his side. "You fool, do not you see a great rising sun? It's the Japanese!"

Not knowing how to read or write, he built a prosperous future as a mechanic and in a few years bought a 138-acre plot of land, where he withdrew his support for his 11 children, but he did not give up his work. At age 7, Manny was already milking the cows and cleaning the barn before going to school. He began to carry sacks of flour "as soon as he had strength for it." Years later, when the Azorean community in the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island grew, it helped the father to sell the yams and salted peanuts that arrived from the islands in great barrels.

As soon as she turned 18, her mother, Maria Emília Martins, who had lived in the country since she was five years old and therefore read and write in both languages, led her to see her first film. Without knowing, he indicated to the son the way to the war.

By 1940 US involvement was beginning to seem inevitable. Before the films were projected "news of men piloting airplanes in training exercises," Manny recalls. While on the screen black and white images told the story of The Man in the Iron Mask, Manny dreamed that he was an airplane pilot.

He began by revealing the desire to his brothers, then, when he turned 19, to his parents. "The Portuguese are crying a lot, my mother also cried, but she finally accepted."

And much will have prayed, too. Maria Emilia was a devoted devotee of the Holy Spirit and had convinced her husband to donate a ten-acre parcel of the farm to build a seat of the Azorean feast, the Holy Spirit Club of Sodom Road.

A few weeks after joining Boston, Manny arrived in New York. "The son of a damn Azorean farmer at Grand Central Station in New York ..." he thought. He was given a blue uniform for his tall, slender body and boarded a ship that led him down the west coast, across the mainland into the Panama Canal, and up the east coast to San Francisco.

It was in this city that she found the curves of the dancers of the first burlesque spectacle she attended. "The boys were all, I did not quite know what it was, I went in, I saw everybody sitting in the front and girls dancing in the woods, lots of girls in the woods."

He set sail for Pacific in the wake of these Americans, arrived in Hawaii, passed west of Honolulu, approached the island of Oahu, and anchored in the huge port of Puuloa Bay, the military base of Pearl Harbor.

Manny Martin was on duty at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese attack.

It was here, this morning in 1941, that he had breakfast, when the seismic force of a first explosion led him to the entrance to the canteen and the sight of a Japanese military aircraft. "It was right above us, at 150 feet altitude, perhaps not so much. It was perfectly visible the rising sun."

Manny grabbed his shotgun and ran to the gun house, where he found his superior, Commander Cassey, who ordered, "Go save the Pearl Harbor canal." The Portuguese threw himself into the channel that served as the entrance to the military base and found two Americans there. When the group joined, a plane raced and started firing on them. The three soldiers took refuge in a large tank of water and in another lightning, another plane appeared. "It was hundreds," says Manny.

The metal creature descended from the heavens, "down to 50 feet," and Manny says he saw "the Japanese put their head out of the window with a big smile and drop a bomb."

The three men squeezed against the tank, Manny closed his eyes and the world disappeared.

Silence.

The explosive burst with a crash, very close to them.

When she opened her eyes, she confirmed that she was whole. One of the Americans pulled her arm. "I was hit," he said.

Manny rested his shotgun on the floor and, as he surveyed his colleague, fixed his face- "he was a very handsome man, fair-haired, short, thick-haired." He concluded: "You look good to me." But the American said the wound was on his back. The Portuguese grabbed the sailor's shirt and "it broke apart," leaving a huge hole in the back.

"I and the other American grabbed him and we took him to the infirmary, he had his shirt all ripped, his belt was soaked in blood, he spoke with difficulty and his breathing was heavy, and when we got to the infirmary, it was already full." account. The attack began "less than half an hour ago."

Manny left the infirmary and was just a lonely, disoriented kid returning to sobs for his post. "I did not know anything about the war, I had enlisted for months, all I knew was that the Japanese were attacking us, I was just thinking: I could be at the farm and I'm here, where the men are killing each other to others."

When the attack ended, less than two hours after it began, Manny discovered that the American had died ten minutes after leaving him in the infirmary. "I never knew his name, but I never forgot his face."

For a week he remained at his post. "We always thought they were going to come back ... Oh my God, so many hours without sleep, I ate nothing on the first day, then we dug a small ditch, I got a blanket and I covered my head, there were a lot of mosquitoes."

In less than a month, Manny returned to the old functions at his unit - "to ensure the proper operation of 82 telephones and a diesel power plant" - but "things never went back to the way they were."

Pearl Harbor was an earthquake that opened huge cracks in the White House. In the two Japanese onslaughts on the base, close to 1,300 military personnel were wounded and 2402 men were killed. President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered a voice to those who were silent and declared war on Japan 24 hours later. He called the day "a date that will live in infamy".

Frank Farias, a teenager in the war

Franks Farias

When Frank was 8 years old, his father, from the island of Santa Maria, was singing the janeiras at a friend's house when he slipped, banged his head on a cement step and died. It was a cold, dark night, but not as cold or as dark as the look of this woman: Galamina Farias, a widow, just arrived in the United States with six smaller children.

Frank started working very new and found that if he went to the troop the family would receive a check. He shared the intention with his mother, who resisted and argued that the son was still 16 years old. He explained that it was "the only way" for her to raise all her children. Galantina signed the authorization for the son to go to war.

"I received ten dollars every two weeks, my mother received more, but I'm not sure how much, it was good money. I went to war for my family."

Frank, a "crazy kid", worked in a dry dock in San Francisco where repaired damaged military vessels. He also participated in small missions at sea to test the repaired ships, but it was the fresh faces of the Americans that were engraved in the memory of the adolescent.

"When we returned to the port, they were behind a fence and shouted, 'I love you, baby, honey, marry me, let's live together.' There were beautiful ones, but they were only interested in money, "he explains. "If we died in the war, the widows received ten thousand dollars, that's what they wanted."

"When we returned to the port, they were behind a fence and shouted, 'I love you, baby, honey, marry me, let's live together.' There were beautiful ones, but they were only interested in money "

The young man had been in the Navy for almost a year when he was ordered to leave. It was July 1945, the next month he would embark for war.

After all, the moment always came. "Crazy Frank", at the age of 18, had always believed that he would go through the war without having to fight, but now everything changed in an instant. He began to pay attention to the conversations of the other sailors about the Japanese enemy. "If they caught you alive, they would put you in a tank, tear off the skin where you had tattoos, cut your fingers and cut your neck - we saw in the news, they lived in holes in the mountains and sent themselves inside the planes against the ships - who does that? "

Three years earlier, President Roosevelt had created the Office of War Information, an advertising bureau that turned to Hollywood radios, newspapers, and studios to gather popular support and mobilize troops. The purpose was to remove the enemies of any human characteristic, to subject them to a metamorphosis so that they resurrected like strange and bizarre beings. The Japanese were not human, they were rats and devils, so they could be attacked, so they could be killed. It was this alien enemy that Frank would fight.

By this time, the Allies' intentions failed and the Japanese did not sign the Treaty of Potsdam, which provided for their surrender. The Japanese prime minister refused to yield and declared, "Let's ignore it. Let's continue relentlessly and fight to the end."

Frank Farias was in the Navy and just did not fight because the atomic bomb ended the war.

On August 6 and 9, the United States dropped LittIe Boy and Fat Man on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and between 150,000 and 250,000 of those mouse-like mythical beings died burned, buried by debris or radiation poisoned.

They called it atomic bombs. Frank did not know what they were, but when he was informed that no one would be shipped-when he sighed with relief because he was saved from the war-the subject was already dominating all the conversations.

Consider the numbers to realize the size of this sigh. Over six years of war, 70% of Europe's infrastructure had been destroyed and 72 million people, including 46 million civilians, had died. Even a teenager, like the Portuguese, perceived the terrible arithmetic of the most deadly conflict in history.

Today, at age 83 and father of three, Frank Farias is no longer a kid. Manny Martin, widower, 89, two children, and George Mendonsa, married and the father of two children, are not either. In the last 66 years they have been decorated and memorials have been built in his honor, but their stories are disappearing under a dense fog. For example, it is impossible to know how many Luso-American veterans fought with the Allies to defeat the Axis countries. The years go by, the world is spent, and it is increasingly difficult to offer an alternative to the official narrative that, from the neutral country of Oliveira Salazar, there were no martyrs for this war.

Still, the three of them, who survived and are here, have a secret to tell. They explain that something happened, a terrible event, yes, but then something wonderful. It happened at the end, when the air still held the sour taste of blood, the explosive smell of the match and the electricity rose from the floor and shivered the hair of the body. It was a lonely and strange moment in which the story summoned its protagonists and they realized what had happened to them: they had become men.