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‘Nurse’ kissed by sailor in iconic World War II picture dies

world Updated: Sep 11, 2016 21:31 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

People visit the exhibition of German-American ‘Life’ magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt at Moscow's Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in April 2015. On display is the famous photograph taken by Eisenstaedt of a sailor kissing a nurse in New York's Times Square on V-J Day on August 14, 1945. (AP File )

Remember the iconic black and white picture of a sailor kissing a nurse that became the defining image of the end of World War II? Greta Friedman, one of the three women who later claimed to be that nurse, died on Thursday. She was 92.

Friedman’s claim was never settled indisputably over the others. The photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt, kept no records, but he did meet one of the other two women. He died in 1995.

The man in the picture remains an unresolved dispute among 11 claims, though George Mendonsa, a veteran and retired fisherman, has had a leading claim for a while.

Friedman and Mendonsa were invited to a 1980 re-enactment of the iconic picture, but they did not kiss again. They remained in touch though, exchanging Christmas cards.

Eisenstaedt took that picture on August 14, 1945, during V-J Day celebrations in Times Square, New York after Japan’s surrender ending the war that started in 1939 with the German invasion of Poland and claimed upwards of 50 million lives.

The picture ran full-page in Life.

In this August 14, 1945 photo provided by the US Navy, a sailor and a nurse kiss in Manhattan's Times Square, as New York City celebrates the end of World War II. The woman, Greta Zimmer Friedman, died on September 8, 2016, at the age of 92. (AP File )

Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous shot of the same kiss is from a slightly different angle, and captured the euphoric mood of the celebrations on Victory over Japan Day in New York City on August 14, 1945. (Getty Image)

Friedman didn’t know of it until the 1960s, when she saw it in a book of Eisenstaedt’s pictures. When she called Life to say it was her, she was told about an earlier claim.

Friedman said in an interview archived with Veterans History Project: “Suddenly, I was grabbed by a sailor. It wasn’t that much of a kiss. It was more of a jubilant act that he didn’t have to go back.

“I found out later he was so happy that he didn’t have to go back to the Pacific where they had already been through the war.

“The reason he grabbed somebody dressed like a nurse, that he felt so very grateful to the nurses who took care of the wounded.”

Friedman, who was 21 then, was not a nurse, but a dental assistant.

In a report on Friedman’s death, The New York Times said Saturday, the picture took on “darker undertones” in later years as an instance of sexual assault, based on how Friedman described it: “I felt that he was very strong. He was just holding me tight. I’m not sure about the kiss... it was just somebody celebrating. It wasn’t a romantic event.”