The image of a young sailor passionately kissing a nurse decked out in her white uniform is one of the most iconic photographs ever taken. But there is a lot more than meets the eye in this photo, and the backstory is one that still fascinates to this day.
The photograph, entitled V-J Day in Times Square, V-J Day, or The Kiss was taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt at 5:51pm ET on August 14, 1945, with a Leica IIIa, a camera as sophisticated then as the Blackjack online Canada has to offer today.
The pic was snapped just south of 45th Street, looking north from where Broadway and Seventh Avenue converge. It had just been announced that the war was over and the photograph was one of many of the celebrations that were published a week later in Life magazine.
Not All That It Seems
What makes this image all the more unusual is that the man kissing the nurse is not her boyfriend or husband. In fact, he had no idea at the time who he was kissing. George Mendonsa is the sailor in the picture and as he tells it, he was watching a movie with ‘the most beautiful girl he had ever seen’.
The movie was stopped mid way and the end of the war was announced in a broadcast message from U.S President Harry S Truman, and George, and his date Rita Petry ran outside. As they emerged in Times Square, George grabbed the nearest nurse and planted a smacker right on her lips.
The kiss took the nurse by surprise, but the photographer managed to capture an image that looked like a couple in a celebratory and loving embrace. George and the nurse, who later turned out to be a young lady by the name of Greta Zimmer had never met, and after the kiss she ran off into the celebrating crowd.
Alfred Eisenstaedt’ just happened to be in Times Square when news of the end of the war broke out, and captured this image at random. It wasn’t posed, and due to the heightened excitement of the crowd, he was unable to get the names of the sailor and the nurse. While numerous people have, over the years, said that it was them in the photograph, Mendonsa and Zimmer are ultimately believed to be the 2 captured.
A Timeless Image
Clearly, Mendosa kissing random women, and then having the pictures beamed all over the world, didn’t put Rita Petry off, and the couple was married a few years later, and remained so for more than 60 years after.
Mendosa is often asked about the iconic photograph and has said that he was simply caught up in the excitement and the kiss was merely a friendly one for fun, and that he grabbed Zimmer, dipped her back, kissed her and continued on his way.
He didn’t give it any thought afterwards either, until he saw the picture appear in magazines and newspapers.
To this day, the photograph remains a symbol of the end of WW2 and the celebrations hat followed.