The sailor at the centre of the famous kiss with a nurse that symbolised the end of World War II has revealed the passionate embrace was a celebratory moment of gratitude for nurses.
A new book, The Kissing Sailor, reveals the identities behind the famous kiss, captured by Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, and unravels the mystery behind the iconic image in US history almost 70 years on.
The sailor has been identified as George Mendonsa, then aged 22 and now aged 89, who was on leave after surviving fighting in the Pacific, where he watched nurses care for wounded soldiers.
George was on his first date with another woman, his now wife Rita Petry, when the end of the war was announced on August 14, 1945.
In an interview with CBS, George admits celebrating the news with
a few drinks before he saw the nurse and complete stranger, Greta Zimmer Friedman.
George left Rita’s side, and in a moment of appreciation and celebration, he caught Greta, who was actually a dental nurse, in a passionate embrace in New York City’s Times Square.
“The excitement of the war being over, plus I had a few drinks…so when I saw the nurse, I grabbed her and I kissed her,” he told CBS.
“I did not see him approaching, and before I know it, I was in this vice grip,” Greta recalled.
Rita, who has been married to George for 66 years, can be seen in the photograph smiling just above George’s left shoulder.
Neither Rita, George or Greta saw Eisenstaedt take the photo which later appeared in the August 27 edition of Life magazine and generated widespread interest about the identity of the kissing couple.
In 1980, Life launched an investigation in a bid to identify the kissing sailor and nurse, prompting an overwhelming response from war veterans and nurses who claimed to be the couple.
That was when George, who now lives with Rita in Rhode Island, realised it was him in the photo.
Greta, from Austria who fled to the United States with her sister, now lives in Maryland and is a widow with children.