Coronado’s George Galdorisi Helps Pen “The Kissing Sailor” – Coronado News

–by David Axelson

Perhaps the most iconic image of the 20th Century was taken by “Life Magazine” photo journalist Alfred Eisenstaedt August 14, 1945 in Times Square in New York City. The occasion was V-J Day, or Victory over Japan Day, which ended World War II. Eisenstaedt’s subjects for the photo were a young sailor and a woman wearing a white uniform locked in an embrace.  Coronado author George Galdorisi (Capt. USN-Ret.), who along with co-author Larry Verria, has written a book entitled “The Kissing Sailor” which explores the identities of the couple depicted in the photo.

Galdorisi is fresh off of the success of the novelization of the movie “Act of Valor,” which he co-wrote with former SEAL Dick Couch. “Act of Valor” and has 440,000 copies in print and is in its fifth printing. The movie had a production budget of $12 million and has grossed $70 million at the domestic box office. Having read the book and watched the movie twice, it is fair to say that the novelization helps fill in several of the plot points depicted in the action-packed movie.

During a recent interview with Galdorisi, the 30-year Navy veteran discussed his latest writing project. “Larry Verria is a history teacher in Bristol, Rhode Island and he uses the ‘Kissing Sailor’ photo to teach history. In 1994 one of the students in his class recognizes George Mendonsa as the sailor in the picture and it turns out George, who is a retired fisherman living in Middleton, Rhode Island is a local celebrity. Verria was enamored with the story, but didn’t do much about it at the time. Fast forward 10 years and Mendonsa has a heart attack. By then there was the controversy about who the kissing sailor was. Verria set off on a quest to prove Mendonsa was the kissing sailor.”

Verria eventually produced an 80,000 word story on the subject, but was having trouble finding a publisher who would take on the project as a book. Paired up by a mutual friend, Galdorisi and Verria spoke on the phone and Galdorisi made some suggestions regarding publishing contacts that might advance the project. Cogent advice came from Wiley Publishing Group’s Senior Editor Stephen S. Power to re-focus the book’s approach to Picture, Place, Publication, the People and the Proof, in that order. The prevailing publishing thought at the time, according to Galdorisi was, “This is an article, not a book.”

The co-authors first conversed by phone in 2005, had a second phone conversation in 2008 and eventually decided to collaborate on the project. Galdorisi and Verria have never met in person and conduct their business via phone and E-mail. Galdorisi has written for Naval Institute Press since 1978 decided to take the book idea there for possible publication. “Twenty months ago they agreed to publish the book,” Gladorisi said. “It was during the height of writing “Act of Valor.” They published the book earlier this month. June 15th is the official release date at Barnes & Noble.”

Virtually all of the details surrounding the original photo, which was published in “Life Magazine” on August 27, 1945, are complicated. Eisenstaedt originally took four photos of the couple and the acclaimed picture was the second of the four shots he took. Originally the property of “Life Magazine,” through a series of mergers, acquisitions and sales, the photos are now owned by Getty Images. “We have all four photos in the book,” said Galdorisi. “We have a total of 40 illustrations.”

The locally famous public art piece “Unconditional Surrender,” which was located near the “USS Midway” Museum in Downtown San Diego is modeled on a similar photo shot by Victor Jorgensen. Galdorisi explained by saying, “At the time the artist wanted to do the statue, Eisenstaedt’s photos were the property of Time-Warner.”

So far we have discussed the sailor in the picture, but equally important is the woman in the photo. Originally thought to be a nurse since she is wearing a white uniform in the image, Greta Zimmer Friedman, a young dental hygienist at the time was on the receiving end of the kiss in the photo. Friedman, now 89 years of age, lives in Maryland. Mendonsa, also 89, lives in Rhode Island. “They have met two or three times since,” said Galdorisi of Friedman and Mendonsa. “They were in a July 4th parade in Bristol, Rhode Island several years ago.” Two years ago they went to a WW II themed ‘Salute to Women on the Home Front’ event held in Omaha, Nebraska. Galdorisi added, “People were so enamored with the story that they pushed the rest of the event later into the day. People wanted to meet them and get autographs. They are both still in good health.” Despite several opportunities to do so, the pair has never re-enacted the famous kiss from 67 years ago.

Perhaps as importantly, Mendonsa and Friedman support the claim of the other as being the subjects of the famous photo. “In the book there are four or five men who are the most prominent claimants, with the strongest stories. And three women,” said Galdorisi of the pretenders who say they have a role in the V-J Day picture. “The reason we wrote the book is we feel very strongly that these people deserve their due. There were competing claims and this way their children and relatives know who they were. That was the motivation behind the book. There was a lot of kissing going on that day. Many people came forward legitimately feeling they were that person in the photo. The book has been out several weeks now and none of the other claimants have come forward to dispute the claims. When you read the book, you’re not suspending belief.”

Verria took the lead on gathering the forensic evidence for the book, which Galdorisi described. “The Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts electronically analyzed the photos to ascertain who the people were and compared them to the other photos that were taken. It’s very technical. We focused on the other four ‘P’s’ first, but we have the proof.”

The backstories of the notables in the book are fascinating as well. Eisenstaedt was a German infantryman in WW I and was wounded by shrapnel as that war drew to a close. Friedman is Jewish, from Austria and was sent to New York with her sister in 1939. Most of her family perished in the Holocaust. Mendonsa was a helmsman aboard the “USS The Sullivans,” which emerged unscathed from Typhoon Cobra in December 1944, but cost the lives of 790 sailors in the fleet. Mendonsa was in New York on 30-day leave while his ship was being retro-fitted in San Francisco. Those are just some of the highlights leading to Eisenstaedt’s famous photo. “The Kissing Sailor” also relates the story that evolved after the picture was snapped.

Going forward, Galdorisi and Dick Couch, his co-author on “Act of Valor,” are now under contract with St. Martin’s Press to revive the Tom Clancy Op-Center novel series created by Clancy and Steve Pieczenik, which was originally written by Jeff Rovin. “We’re not going to mimic the old series, but we’re going to reinvent Op-Center,” said Galdorisi. “When things get too hot for the Department of Defense or the CIA, the President has small groups at Op-Center who are tasked to take care of the problem. That’s the high concept.”
Thursday, June 7, 2012, Galdorisi will be at Bay Books in Coronado from 6 to 8 pm to sign copies of “The Kissing Sailor.” He’ll also speak about the book prior to the signing.

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