George Mendonsa of Newport, Rhode Island, on leave from the USS The Sullivans (DD-537), was watching a movie with his future wife, Rita, at Radio City Music Hall when the doors opened and people started screaming the war was over. George and Rita joined the partying on the street, but when they could not get into the packed bars decided to walk down the street. It was then that George saw a woman in a white dress walk by and took her into his arms and kissed her,
“I had quite a few drinks that day and I considered her one of the troops—she was a nurse.”
In one of the four pictures that Eisenstaedt took, Mendonsa claims that Rita is visible in the background behind the kissing couple.
In 1987, George Mendonsa filed a lawsuit against Time Inc. in Rhode Island state court, alleging that he was the sailor in the photograph and that both Time and Life had violated his right of publicity by using the photograph without his permission. After Time Inc. removed the case to federal court, Mendonsa survived a motion to dismiss.
Mendonsa was identified by a team of volunteers from the Naval War College in August 2005 as “the kisser”. His claim was based on matching his scars and tattoos to scars and tattoos in the photograph. They made their determination after much study including photographic analysis by the Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories (MERL) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who were able to match scars and tattoo spotted by photograph experts, and the testimony of Richard M. Benson, a photograph analysis expert, professor of photographic studies, plus the former Dean of the School of Arts at Yale University. Benson stated that
“it is therefore my opinion, based upon a reasonable degree of certainty, that George Mendonsa is the sailor in Mr. Eisenstaedt’s famous photograph.”
The identity of the sailor as George Mendonsa has been challenged by physicists Donald W. Olson and Russell Doescher of Texas State University and Steve Kawaler of Iowa State University based on astronomical conditions recorded by the photographs of the incident. According to Mendonsa’s account of the events of the day, the kiss would have occurred at approximately 2 p.m.
However, Olson and Doescher argue that the positions of shadows in the photographs suggest that it was taken after 5 p.m. They further point to a clock seen in the picture, whose hour hand appears closer to the 6 o’clock position than to the 2 o’clock position; and to Victor Jorgensen’s account of the circumstances of his own picture; concluding that Mendonsa’s version of events is untenable.
Carl Muscarello is a retired police officer with the New York City Police Department, now living in Plantation, Florida. In 1995, he claimed to be the kissing sailor. He claimed that he was in Times Square on August 14, 1945, and that he kissed numerous women. A distinctive birthmark on his hand enabled his mother to identify him as the subject. Edith Shain initially said she believed Muscarello’s claim to be the sailor and they even dated after their brief reunion. But in 2005, Shain was much less certain, telling the New York Times,
“I can’t say he isn’t. I just can’t say he is. There is no way to tell.”
Muscarello has described his condition on August 14, 1945 as being quite drunk and having no clear memory of his actions in the square, stating that his mother claimed he was the man after seeing the photograph and he came to believe it.
Glenn McDuffie laid claim in 2007 and was supported by Houston Police Department forensic artist Lois Gibson. Gibson’s forensic analysis compared the Eisenstaedt photographs with current-day photographs of McDuffie, analyzing key facial features identical on both sets. She measured his ears, facial bones, hairline, wrist, knuckles, and hand, and compared those to enlargements of Eisenstaedt’s picture.
I could tell just in general that yes, it’s him. But I wanted to be able to tell other people so I replicated the pose.
In the August 14, 2007, issue of AM New York McDuffie said he passed five polygraph tests confirming his claim to be the man. McDuffie, a native of Kannapolis, North Carolina, who had lied about his age so he could enlist at the age of 15, went on after the war to play semi-pro baseball and work for the United States Postal Service.
He says that on that day he was on the subway to Brooklyn to visit his girlfriend, Ardith Bloomfield. He came out of the subway at Times Square, where people were celebrating in the streets. Excited that his brother, who was being held by the Japanese as a prisoner of war, would be released, McDuffie began hollering and jumping up and down. A nurse saw him, and opened her arms to him. In apparent conflict with Eisenstaedt’s recollections of the event, McDuffie said he ran over to her and kissed her for a long time so that Eisenstaedt could take the photograph:
I went over there and kissed her and saw a man running at us…I thought it was a jealous husband or boyfriend coming to poke me in the eyes. I looked up and saw he was taking the picture and I kissed her as long as took for him to take it.
Gibson had also analyzed photographs of other men who have claimed to be the sailor, including Muscarello and Mendonça, reporting that neither man’s facial bones or other features match those of the sailor in the photograph. On August 3, 2008, Glenn McDuffie was recognized for his 81st birthday as the “Kissing Sailor” during the seventh-inning stretch of the Houston Astros and New York Mets game at Minute Maid Park. McDuffie died on March 14, 2014.
Life‘s October 1980 issue did not include Muscarello or Glenn McDuffie. These claims have been made much more recently.
Mendonça and Friedman (both individually and together), as well as Shain, Muscarello, and McDuffie, were widely interviewed in the succeeding years by Life, PBS, NBC, CBS, and others. The life stories of Mendonça and Friedman, and how they came to be in Times Square that day, as well as the reasons they are considered most likely to be the ones photographed, are the subject of a detailed book on the photo.
Mendonça recognizes Friedman, to the exclusion of any other woman, as the “nurse” he kissed in the photographs (or, to be precise, the woman in the white uniform, as Friedman was a dental assistant—a nurse’s uniform was customary in a dentist’s office to be worn by female assistants and hygienists in that era).
As part of a World War II memorial at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts, a new painting titled Victory Kiss by Jim Laurier of New Hampshire was first unveiled on August 24, 2013, to honor the event captured in the photo. George Mendonça was in attendance for the unveiling.
In popular culture
In 2005, John Seward Johnson II displayed a bronze life-size sculpture, Unconditional Surrender, at an August 14, 2005, sixtieth-anniversary reenactment at Times Square of the kiss. His statue was featured in a ceremony that included Carl Muscarello and Edith Shain, holding a copy of the famous photograph, as participants.
Johnson also sculpted a 25-foot-tall (7.6 m) version in plastic and aluminum, which has been displayed in several cities, including San Diego and Sarasota.The 25-foot (7.6 m) version was moved to New York City again on August 12, 2015, for a temporary display.
In the 2009 film Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, two characters jump into a life-size enlargement of the photograph, finding themselves in a monochrome Times Square. One of them cuts in on the sailor for a kiss with the nurse.
In the 2009 film Watchmen, during the opening credits, the Times Square V-J celebration is shown with a costumed heroine, Silhouette, kissing a female nurse as a photographer captures the moment.
In 2009 a furor over the placement of a derivative of the photograph on public land arose in Sarasota, Florida. Television and radio programs concentrated on it, and letters to the editor were printed for months. Letters and articles in the local press continue to debate the central issue of the objections in 2015. The statue was given ten years to stay on the public land by a slim majority of city council members.
In the 2010 film Letters to Juliet, the photograph is featured in a scene where a magazine editor questions a writer about her fact-checking regarding the image.
In the The Simpsons episode “Bart the General“, victory celebrations following a “war” between two groups of children include a boy in a sailor outfit kissing Lisa as a photograph is taken. She then slaps the boy, exclaiming, “Knock it off!”
In 2012, while performing a show for the Marines during the New York City Fleet Week, singer Katy Perry kissed a man on stage, replicating the pose.
In the 2012 film Men in Black III, a time traveling character views The Kiss.
In the 2014 video game Wolfenstein: The New Order, an alternative history version of the V-J Day kiss (V-A Day in the timeline) appears as a Nazi soldier forcing himself on the nurse.