The iconic 1945 photograph of a sailor locked in a passionate kiss with a nurse in New York City’s Times Square may not mean anything to the younger generation, some of who may not have seen the picture at all, until now.
But to the baby boomers and those born immediately thereafter, this was an inspiring and exhilarating image as it marked the end of World War II and, therefore, a momentous event in U.S. history.
The photo was taken by LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt in the midst of an impromptu, but wild celebration, after hearing somebody shout that “The war is over!” Eisenstaedt, in his excitement, failed to get the couple’s names.
The black and white photo became the cover of the August 27, 1945 issue of LIFE magazine and it became the most reproduced during that time.
While the identities remained a mystery, at the same time it also became a subject of disputes as many came forward claiming it was them.
Not until a new book, ‘The Kissing Sailor’ by George Galdorisi and co-authored by Lawrence Verrie that they were able to finally solve the puzzle by revealing 89-year-olds George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer Friedman as the couple that caught the attention of the world following Japan’s surrender.
According to the authors, Mendonsa was on a date with his girlfriend, Rita Petry, at Radio City Music Hall on that August day. He was on leave after surviving battles in the Pacific and visiting friends cared for by nurses in the hospital.
Galdorisi said that, ‘In the emotion and exhilaration of someone announcing “The war was over,” Mendonsa streamed out of Radio City Music Hall bound and determined to kiss the first nurse he encountered.’
That is when he is said to have encountered Greta.
‘The people didn’t say, “Hi, my name is.” They just went their separate ways after the kiss,’ Galdorisi said.
Rita Petry later became Mendonsa’s wife and settled in Rhode Island.
Greta Friedman now lives in Maryland, according to the authors.