You may not know his name, but you’ve seen him in one of the most famous and recognizable photographs ever taken.
His name was George Mendonsa. He was the sailor who grabbed a nurse and kissed her in Times Square to celebrate the end of World War II.
Edited by: JV Staff
Mendonsa died of a seizure in Middletown, Rhode Island Sunday, two days before his 96th birthday.
Mendonsa was a U.S. sailor on leave who would likely have been sent to the Pacific to continue the war against Japan.
But when word of the Japanese surrender was announced on August 14, 1945, Mendonsa and thousands of others poured into the streets of New York to celebrate.
He spontaneously grabbed a woman he thought was a nurse, bent her back, and kissed her. Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured the scene, making it an iconic image of World War II and a picture instantly recognized around the world.
Many men claimed to be the sailor throughout the years. But image technology and Mendonsa’s date and future wife — who is seen in the background of the picture — proved it was him.
Though Mendonsa never persuaded Life magazine, which first published Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photo, that he was the man in the picture, several sources over the years — including the authors of “The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo that Ended World War II” — have concluded the smooching seaman is Mendonsa. The authors cited facial recognition technology and high-tech forensic reconstructions.
In a 2015 interview, Mendonsa told CNN that he never failed to convince anyone of the fact.
“And when I get through showing you the photos … if you don’t admit that, I’d say you’re a phony bastard,” he told a reporter who visited his Middletown home.
“In the middle of New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers,” the caption says, describing the 21-year-old woman who, decades later, would be identified as Greta Friedman.
She died in 2016.
Mendonsa was on leave after a stint in the Pacific, he told CNN in 2015, and was on a first date with Rita Petry, who was related to his younger sister’s new husband.
While taking in a matinee, a crowd outside Radio City Music Hall began pounding on the theater doors, shouting, “The war is over!” — a cry that resonated through the building.
Mendonsa and Petry walked outside to find thousands of revelers in the streets. They stopped at a bar.
“The booze was flying, and I popped quite a few,” he recalled. “We’re all drinking and raising hell.”
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