They didn’t know each other, and the photo wasn’t manufactured. The Kissing Sailor describes how it happened and was recorded. This summary combines chapters 9-12.
As a nurse
Greta Zimmer’s August 14, 1945 began like other weekdays that year. She quickly showered, dressed, and tied up her hair to protect her ears and neck. She ate a short bite, grabbed her small, multicolored purse, and left her Manhattan flat. Greta hurried to the subway station when she was late for work.
Her stop was 33rd and Lexington, three blocks from Dr. J. L. Berke’s office. Greta was a dental assistant in Manhattan. Work as a dental assistant gave her independence and helped her forget the war.
Greta wore her uniform to work on August 14. Her job prevented her from being mistaken for a nurse. Her white dress, stockings, shoes, and cap didn’t set her apart from other New York caregivers.
While Greta worked as a dental assistant on Tuesday, numerous patients arrived out of breath and smiling. They told personnel and patients that Japan’s war had finished. Patients and staff believed them. Greta doubted it. Greta wanted to believe them, but the war had brought her much sorrow. She stayed defensive. She avoided hasty celebration.
Later in the morning, patients came in with better news. Greta tried to disregard positive events, but she was tempted to follow the breeze. Greta listened, contemplated, and grew eager as reports became more definitive and encouraging.
Greta finished her work before the dentists returned from lunch at 1:00. She grabbed her colorful handbag, removed her white dental assistant cap (as was traditional), and headed to Times Square for her lunch break. Times news zipper used illuminated and moving typography to report news. She wanted to know if the statements from the preceding few hours were rumor or if, on this day, they were true.
Times Square was festive when Greta arrived. Greta sensed a bright energy in the air despite the quiet celebration. Businessmen, women, and uniformed soldiers and sailors poured into the chaos. Others ran aimlessly. Some walked purposefully. Some stood still, as though expecting something big. Greta ignored everyone.
As she entered the square, she passed the 42nd Street subway stairs, a replica of the Statue of Liberty, and Joe Rosenthal’s famous photo. Greta stared at the Times Building after passing a 25-foot model of Marines hoisting the flag at Iwo Jima. She concentrated on the third-floor windows where lit letters scrolled headlines. Greta read the short message quickly. She understood now.
Last leave day
On his last day of leave, PO1 George Mendonsa ignored the headlines and didn’t worry about the Japanese. After two years in WWII’s Pacific theater, he believed the fight would continue with or without him. On August 14, 1945, he thought about Rita Petry, a Long Island girl he’d met in Rhode Island.
George woke up alone in a Long Island bedroom on Tuesday. After brunch with Rita’s folks, he looked up showtimes in The New York Times. They saw a matinee at Radio City Music Hall. They assumed the 1:05 pm showing of A Bell for Adano would give them enough time to go home by early evening. George left for San Francisco that night.
In a few days, he planned to board The Sullivans and prepare for the war’s final engagements. He anticipated an invasion of Japan. While he didn’t welcome the series of events, he thought wiping off the Japanese in their homeland would be a fitting bookend to a conflict that began four years earlier with the empire’s bombing of Pearl Harbor. All that was ahead. One day remained in New York.
George donned a fancy blue Navy outfit he had tailored in Newport. Rita appreciated the new uniform’s fit, but she noted he didn’t look like a typical sailor. He didn’t carry rates.” She offered to sew on the chevron, but George said he would use a crossbow hand-stitch he’d developed on The Sullivans. George never turned in his rating badge, so he carried it with him when he and Rita left for the city.
Manhattan was buzzing with news of Japan’s capitulation when they arrived around lunchtime. Rita and George rarely listened to conversations. They took the train to Radio City Music Hall to see the 1:05 movie.
George and Rita never witnessed the movie’s climax despite their haste. After a few scenes, a theater employee pounded on the door and announced that World War II had finished. Radio City Music Hall fans applauded wildly. The White House’s official statement of Japan’s submission was still hours away, but few objected to the premature pronouncement.
George, Rita, and most moviegoers left Radio City Music Hall seconds after the attendant’s statement. They fed off the contagious excitement as they joined the frenzy. Victory and peace were yelled. Smiles and laughter. They leapt around carelessly. The historic celebration moved toward Times Square like it was magnetized. People from different parts of the city gathered at the same crossroads as before.
George and Rita celebrated at Childs on 7th Avenue and 49th Street. As in other New York watering establishments, folks strolled, skipped, and sprinted to the jam-packed counter to toast the end of the war. Childs resembled 7th Avenue. Order and manners were gone. Patrons rushed the bar and grabbed shot glasses of liquor instead of ordering beer or wine.
A generous bartender poured liquor into cups. George drank anything the waitress offered without asking. He knew the outcome would be the same whether Jack Daniel’s, Jameson, or Old Grand-Dad contributed. Even Rita was irresponsible. George and his date left the busy bar after too many drinks.
Emotions and alcohol-fueled gasoline carried them to Times Square, where WWII celebrants gathered. George was amazed with Times Square. Also George. He was uncharacteristically joyful. George from The Sullivans outpaced his sweetheart toward 42nd Street. Nobody could catch George. Rita didn’t try. Victory overcame his enormous frame’s strength. He needed to vent. Rita kept up. She was always a few feet behind him. She appreciated George’s drive across Times Square, but she wondered if he’d stop.
As the celebration of Japan’s surrender swelled, reporters from The Associated Press, The New York Times, and other publications came on Times Square to document the spontaneous merriment. Photographers swelled an impromptu party. Life magazine was represented.
The magazine seeks unique wartime photos on August 14, 1945. Life wants viewers to know how the war’s end felt on this day. The editors didn’t know how that sentiment would manifest, so they left it to the photographers, like they had with prior occasions in the magazine’s nine-year history. Unsupervised approaches had rarely disappointed in the past, therefore Life’s editors trusted their photographers.
Alfred Eisenstaedt had the magazine’s full trust. He photographed World War II figures before the war’s declaration and before Life existed. As a German Jew in the 1930s, he documented the storm, including Mussolini and Hitler’s first meeting in Venice on June 13, 1934. In 1935, on the eve of Fascist Italy’s onslaught, he photographed an Ethiopian soldier’s fractured feet.
Eisenstaedt focused on the American home front when the Japan-U.S. conflict began. In 1942, he photographed a six-member Missouri draft board rating a young farmer as 2-C, suggesting draft deferral. In 1945, he captured freshman senators performing comedic monologues and musical routines for Capitol reporters. Eisenstaedt documented World War II on the U.S. mainland.
Eisenstaedt approached Times Square on the day World War II ended wearing a tan suit, white shirt, lined tie, tan saddle shoes, and a Leica camera around his neck. Despite his unique outfit, he sneaked among the moving gears to find the photo.
He hid himself. He hunted. He saw a picture. The square was kinetic. Eisenstaedt wanted people to understand. Eisenstaedt’s photo needs a tactile element to accomplish this. Five-foot-four photographer had a tall order. He liked challenges.
After 1 p.m., Eisenstaedt photographed women partying across from the 42nd Street subway stairs. The picture showed women flinging paper, creating a little ticker-tape parade. While charming, the photo wasn’t what Eisenstaedt wanted that day.
After closing the shutter, he peered up Broadway and 7th Avenue to 43rd Street’s connection to Times Square’s primary artery. Eisenstaedt searched for an image that would define the occasion, looking around, under, but not over the crowd. The war’s end set the stage for a once-in-a-million photo. Soon, an opportunity would arise. Eisenstaedt understood. So he waited.
Greta Zimmer stood still in Times Square amid a Statue of Liberty replica and an Iwo Jima model. Greta’s left was the 7th Avenue and 49th Street Childs restaurant. Greta didn’t visit Times Square to look at monuments or drink. She wanted to know if Japan had really surrendered to the U.S.
She stared up at the large triangular building that divided a street with 44th Street and the Astor Hotel behind her. “VJ, VJ, VJ, VJ…” was lighted around the Times Building. Greta stared at the moving type. Her lips and eyes smiled faintly. She absorbed the moment and thought, The war’s ended. Finished.
Even though Greta arrived alone, she wasn’t alone. Hundreds of people moved around her as she watched the “VJ” message. Greta ignored the crowds. They’d notice her and never forget her. She became Times Square’s center in seconds. Except one, everyone orbited her. She drew him.
George Mendonsa and Rita Petry left Childs on 49th and headed for 42nd Street. Rita trailed George. Eisenstaedt searched for the shot. After traveling a block up Times Square, he noticed a fast-moving sailor kissing a woman. The sailor headed south on Broadway and 7th Avenue. Eisenstaedt adjusted course to beat the darting sailor.
He had to look aside from the sailor he was following to avoid people in the packed street. He tried to focus on the Navy man in uniform. Greta turned right as he undid the Times zipper. George crossed 44th and 7th Avenue to get away from Rita. Photographer, sailor, and dental assistant collided.
The sailor aboard The Sullivans quickly focused on a woman he imagined was a nurse. His glazed stare was fueled by alcohol. He recalled rescuing maimed sailors from a burning ship in an ocean. Then, angels in white nursed the injured men. He observed The Sullivans from the bridge. Their sacrifice convinced him the conflict would end. Again, peace. It was then.
George continued to advance. His girlfriend was lagging. Greta was his concentration. His advance went unnoticed. His plan worked. He did not ask for permission. She reminded him of wartime nurses. Their care and nurture gave a little respite from kamikazes. It was over. She waited. His. He hurried toward her, not recognizing background noises.
George stopped before rushing into Greta, but his upper torso swept over her. Greta was pushed back and to the right. As he passed Greta, he grabbed her waist. She was pulled toward his sleek, powerful form. Her initial attempt to distance herself from the dark-uniformed man was useless. Right arm pinned between their bodies, she instantly raised left arm and fist in protection. Unnecessary. She wasn’t his target.
His left arm held her neck as they kissed. His rearward, away-from-her-face left hand signaled constraint, caution, or skepticism. The stance combined brute force, compassionate embrace, and awkward hesitancy. He held on. As he continued to lean forward, she lowered her right arm and gave up—but only briefly. He held her closer to prolong the moment. Further. They parted, releasing the heat from their embrace onto the New York July afternoon.
The unplanned meeting was beyond the participants’ control. Even George, the originator, had little resolution amid a torrent of fate. Must kiss her. He was confused.
George thought Times Square was his. Nope. Eisenstaedt owned them. On assignment, he captured everything photoworthy. Eisenstaedt turned, aimed his Leica, and clicked the shutter four times. V-J Day, 1945, Times Square was one click. That photo became his most famous, Life magazine’s most reproduced, and a historical icon. On the day World War II ended, a sailor kissed a nurse underneath Joe Rosenthal’s Iwo Jima flag-raising photo. This photo showed a hard-won win. This photo captured long-awaited peace.
Not only Alfred Eisenstaedt noticed George and Greta. Lieutenant Victor Jorgensen, standing to Eisenstaedt’s right, photographed the intertwined pair as he took his second photo of four. Kissing the War Goodbye gained many admirers, though not as many as Eisenstaedt’s second photo.
It ended. Greta returned to her dentist office shortly after V-J Day, 1945, and told everyone what was happening. Dr. Berke cancelled the day’s appointments and shuttered the clinic. As Greta headed home, another sailor kissed her cheek. Greta didn’t wear her dental assistant outfit and no photographers were there. She didn’t recall being photographed that day. Years later, she saw Eisenstaedt’s portrait of a Times Square couple kissing in The Eyes of Eisenstaedt.
George also didn’t aware he was photographed. George grinned at Rita after his act and offered few details. Unbelievably, she didn’t object. On August 14, 1945, George’s actions were acceptable, but not now. George and Rita didn’t think much of the incident and took the 42nd Street metro to Rita’s parents’ home. The Petrys took George to LaGuardia Airport that evening for a midnight departure to San Francisco. Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day, 1945, Times Square wasn’t discovered until 1980.
For the Brief Readers :
Before their famous kiss, Greta Zimmer and George Mendonsa had never met, and it wasn’t until years later that they discovered they had been captured on camera. However, their kiss was featured on the cover of Life Magazine to mark the end of World War II, it has been imitated by countless people in Times Square, and it has even been turned into a massive statue called “Unconditional Surrender” in both Sarasota, Florida, and San Diego, California.
Despite this, there have been some disputes concerning the image. Given that the two were complete strangers, some people think the kiss represents a sexual assault. Mendonsa was also intoxicated, and Zimmer claims he didn’t know he was there until he had his arms around her and started kissing her.
“I thought he was incredibly powerful. He was only tightly holding me. Regarding the kiss, I’m not sure “Zimmer stated in an interview she gave to the Veterans History Project in 2005. “It was just one person having fun. It wasn’t a passionate occasion.”
Read another article from us : 1950s Manufaktura : History and Modernity of Poland’s Largest Renovation Project