The post isn’t about the west, but I hope no one minds. While in California earlier this month, I visited the Unconditional Surrender Statue in San Diego. I knew of the ‘kiss’ but not the story behind it, which is worth sharing. I hope you think so, too.
I need to note, there are several versions of the story, and this is the one the Naval Institute (which is also part of the display in San Diego) shared.
The famous 1945 photo wasn’t staged, nor did the two people know each other. Matter of fact, the picture didn’t even become famous until years later, and the two people didn’t even know about the picture until the late 1970’s.
Greta Zimmer was a dental assistant (at the time they wore the full ‘nurse garb’) in New York and on August 14, 1945 was at work as usual. After dental patients coming into the clinic said the war had ended, during her lunch break, Greta went down to Time’s Square to read the news herself on the lighted Times news zipper in the windows on the third story of their building.
That same day, George Mendonsa was looking forward to spending his last day before being shipped out again with his new girlfriend, Rita. Because Rita liked how he looked in it, George wore his uniform to take Rita to a matinee that afternoon. Shortly after it began, the show was interrupted by the announcement the war had ended.
George and Rita left the movie theatre and hurried to Times Square, where a multitude of people had gathered, reading the same lighted message as Greta. Gaiety overtook the entire area, and people rushed into ‘water holes’ where shot glasses of whiskey were passed out in celebration. George tossed back more than one glass in his excitement. Jubilant, he rushed back out into the crowd, and there, amongst the mass, he saw an angel. He remembered a time when he’d rescued maimed sailors from a burning ship, and how the nurses, angels in white, took care of them afterwards.
In the heat of the moment, George rushed to Greta and without asking permission, kissed her.
Greta’s first response was defense (in some photos—several were taken by other people besides the Life magazine reporter—her hand is clenched in a fist and rising). Perhaps because she understood George had no intention of hurting her, she surrendered to the kiss.
Afterwards, without a word, Greta and George parted. George did offer Rita, who had watched the kiss from the sidelines, an apology for what had happened, but she had no objections. Greta simply returned to work. Little did they know that Alfred Eisenstaedt, a Life magazine photographer, had snapped four photos of them. One which would become his most famous photograph, Life magazines most reproduced, and one of the most popular photos of the 20’s century.
Years later, when the photo gained popularity, a search for the identities of the nurse and the sailor had several people coming forward, claiming it was them. Neither George nor Greta knew about the photo until contacted. George and Rita (who had been married several years then) recognized the photo because of Rita in the background, and Greta recognized herself because of how straight the seams where in her stockings, she took extra care in assuring they were always perfectly straight.
Now, wasn't that worth sharing?