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The Sailor Captured In An Iconic Photo Celebrating The End Of WWII With A Kiss Has Died At Age 95

The Sailor Captured In An Iconic Photo Celebrating The End Of WWII With A Kiss Has Died At Age 95
Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Few images capture a moment of unbridled joy following the end of a war quite like "The Kiss."

You know the famous image. It was the most iconic photograph of a sailor and a woman, widely mistaken for a nurse, in a time-suspended lip lock in Times Square, New York.

The black and white photograph was taken on August 14, 1945, known as V-Day, which signified when the Japanese surrendered to the United States leading to the end of World War II.

More than 70 years later, George Mendonsa, identified as the ecstatic sailor in the picture, passed away on Sunday. He was 95-years-old.

Up until a few years ago, not much was known about the man in the uniform and of his relationship with the unsuspecting nurse who happened to be in his vicinity amidst the celebratory moment.

The American Veterans Center honored Mendonsa with a tribute.

The Providence Journal reported that Mendonsa died after suffering a seizure at an assisted living facility in Middletown, Rhode Island, where he lived with his wife, according to their daughter, Sharon Molleur.

Two photographers captured the spontaneous moment of Mendonsa kissing the dental assistant, Greta Zimmer Friendman, who received the kiss without warning.

Alfred Eisenstaedt's view of the photograph taken straight on was published in LIFE magazine with the title: "V-J Day in Times Square," highlighting the moment when people spilled onto the streets of Times Square to celebrate. But most people know the image as "The Kiss."

Victor Jorgensen, also in the navy, took the photograph from a lower angle from the side. It is the photograph featured on the right side in the juxtaposed tweet below and was equally recognized for being synonymous with the ending of the war.

People expressed their condolences.

The kiss is immortalized with a statue in San Diego.

In regards to the photo, Molleur recognizes her father as a man who is proud and relieved.

"When I look at that photograph, I just think of my dad's service, and how happy he was that it was all over,"

At first glance, the nostalgic photo from a bygone era looks like a Hollywood ending. But appearances are deceiving. The smooch was anything but romantic in reality.

The woman in the photograph was actually a dental assistant, whose name was Greta Zimmer Friendman.

Friedman told the Library of Congress during a 2005 interview with the Veterans History Project, that Mendonsa kissed her without her consent.

"The guy just came over and kissed or grabbed. It was just somebody really celebrating. But it wasn't a romantic event."
"It wasn't that much of a kiss. It was more of a jubilant act that he didn't have to go back."

She added that the moment was more about the war being over and that everyone was excited:

"He was just holding me tight. I'm not sure about the kiss. It was just somebody celebrating."
"It was just an event of thank God the war is over kind of thing because it was right in front of the sign."

Friedman, who emigrated from Nazi-controlled Austria as a 15-year-old, died on September 8, 2016 at the age of 92.

Mendonsa was on a first date with Rita Petry, who was related to his brother in law. They were at Radio City Music Hall taking in a matinee when their date was interrupted by the ruckus outside, with shouts of "The war is over!"

"I saw what those nurses did that day and now back in Times Square the war ends, a few drinks, so I grabbed the nurse," Mendonsa said of his mistaking the dental assistant in a nurse's uniform for an actual nurse.

Petry, whom he would end up marrying and spend over 70 years together, witnessed the stolen smooch with Friedman.

In a 2005 interview, she told CNN:

"I was in the background, grinning like a mutt. It didn't matter to me."

"They ran out of the theater and began celebrating. Everyone was kissing everyone," added their daughter. "He was so thankful for all the nurses that had helped all the wounded soldiers."

Molleur told CNN that her father will be interred at the St. Columba Cemetery in his hometown of Middletown, Rhode Island.