The UK’s Daily Mail features The Kissing Sailor Story & Photos from CBS This Morning

This story was originally published by the UK’s The Daily Mail – It is an image that captured an epic moment in U.S. history – a sailor locked in a passionate kiss with a nurse in New York City’s Times Square at the end of World War II.

And, after decades of dispute, the couple in the 1945 photograph were revealed to be 89-year-olds George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer Friedman.

Now the couple who won the nation’s heart have reunited in the location of the famous smooch to reflect on the photograph that came to symbolize the end of the war.

‘It was the moment. You come back from the Pacific, and finally, the war ends,’ Mendonsa told CBS.

Mendonsa told how he was on a date with another woman named Rita Petry at Radio City Music Hall on August 14 when news of the Japanese surrender was announced.

‘They stopped the show and they said, “The war is over. The Japanese have surrendered,”‘ he recalled.

Mendonsa and his date, who would become his future wife, rushed to a nearby bar where the sailor admits he ‘popped quite a few drinks.’

As they set on their way, Mendonsa spotted a woman in a nurse’s uniform – he left Petry and rushed to grab her.

‘The excitement of the war being over, plus I had a few drinks,’ he told CBS. ‘So when I saw the nurse, I grabbed her, and I kissed her.’

I did not see him approaching, and before I know it, I was in this vice grip,’ Friedman added.

Of course, that moment of wild elation, gratitude and passion was captured by LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Friedman recognised herself in the timeless photograph once it was published. ‘You don’t forget this guy grabbing you,’ she said.

But Mendonsa wasn’t so sure. A friend of his recognised the sailor’s picture on the iconic cover but Mendonsa took some convincing. ‘He says, “I know it’s you,”‘ Mendonsa said. ‘I said, “You’re crazy!” This was 1980, 35 years after the war ended. … So he brought the magazine over to the house and, the minute I looked at it, I said, “Damn. That IS me!”‘

He said the picture on his date’s face, who can be seen peeking just above his left shoulder, is proof that he is the sailor in the much-contested photograph.

‘A lot of people want to know what I was thinking,’ Petry told the Post. ‘It was a happy day; I was grinning like an idiot. The kiss really didn’t bother me at all. If I had been engaged, maybe.’

Now married for 66 years, Petry insists that she has never been mad that on their first date her future husband grabbed another woman and passionately kissed her, reported the New York Post.

However, she does admit: ‘In all these years, George has never kissed me like that.’

A new book entitled ‘The Kissing Sailor’ details how, in August 1945, Mr Mendonsa, 22, was on leave after surviving battles in the Pacific, where he watched nurses care for wounded sailors.

‘She was beautiful,’ he told the Post. ‘I think I fell in love with her the first time I saw her.’

The ‘other’ woman – Friedman – was actually a dental nurse from Austria who had fled to the U.S. with her sister in 1939 – leaving her parents behind.

While George says he was too drunk to even remember the kiss, Greta recalls being grabbed clearly.

‘That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me,’ she told the paper.

Lawrence Verria, co-author of The Kissing Sailor, jokily cautions about grabbing strangers today adding, ‘But in Times Square, 1945, they hear the war’s over — it’s not such a bad idea.’

Neither the young sailor, his date or the Austrian dental nurse knew that Eisenstaedt had snapped that moment.

Tucked away on page 27 of Life magazine’s August 27, 1945 issue, their black and white image became the magazine’s most reproduced, and more questions were raised about their identities.

Without indisputable proof, LIFE launched a bid in 1980 to identify the couple, and a flood of war veterans and nurses came forward to claim their kisses were recorded.

It was then that Mr Mendonsa saw the photo for the first time which he described as ‘like looking in the mirror’ to the Post.

The emergence of the photo did not bring any latent feelings of resent for Rita. ‘By the time I knew about it, I’d been married for years,’ she points out logically.

With two copies of the photograph hanging in the couple’s Rhode Island home – it is clear that the photo holds special memories for the couple – the day the war ended, and, their first date.

Greta later discovered that her parents died in the war camps and she has never returned to Austria. A widow with children, she now lives in Maryland, according to the authors of ‘The Kissing Sailor’.

While Greta and George have reunited several times in the last six decades, they have never once reenacted the kiss.


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