Death of Nurse-Kissing Sailor from Famous Photo Reignites Controversy Over Its Legacy
A 95-year-old World War II veteran named George Mendonsa died on Sunday. Although you may not know his name, you probably know his image. A photograph of Mendonsa as a young sailor, passionately kissing a nurse in Times Square on VJ Day, has become an iconic image associated with the end of the war.
In recent years, though, people have called into question the nostalgia over the photo after a woman who self-identified as the nurse said that the kiss was non-consensual. On Monday, a statue of the kissing figures in Sarasota, Florida, was graffitied in red paint with the caption: “#MeToo.”
Although it took decades to identify Mendonsa as the figure in the famous photograph, a woman named Greta Friedman pointed herself out as the nurse (in reality, she’d been a dental assistant) many years sooner. As the story goes, she recognized herself when she came across the image in a book of photos by the renowned photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt in the 1960s. It was then that she reached out to Life magazine, which originally published the photo, to say she was woman in the picture — although the magazine insisted otherwise.
“I didn’t believe that because I knew it happened to me,” she said in 2005 in an interview with the Veterans History Project. “It’s exactly my figure, and what I wore, and my hairdo especially.”
Friedman, who died in 2016, recalled that the sailor had just grabbed and kissed her while walking down the street during the exuberant celebration. A 2012 post from the blog Crates and Ribbons went so far as to say that Mendonsa’s kiss “would be considered sexual assault by modern standards.”
But whether or not the kiss was wanted, it became a symbol of the joy and relief many Americans felt as the war ended in 1945. Friedman never faulted Mendonsa for his kiss; her son told the New York Times at her death that she understood why some people considered it to be assault, but she didn’t necessarily feel the same way.
Although he was only 22 when the photo was taken, Mendonsa later recalled the joy he felt to learn of Japan’s surrender in a 2005 interview: “‘For Chrissake, the war is over!'” He was moved to kiss Friedman because he’d seen the nurses in action during the war and was appreciative of their work to save other troops.
“When I look at that photograph, I just think of my dad’s service, and how happy he was that it was all over,” Mendonsa’s daughter Sharon Molleur told CNN of her dad, who died two days shy of his 96th birthday.
“They [the sailors] ran out of the theater and began celebrating. Everyone was kissing everyone,” Molleur explained. “He was so thankful for all the nurses that had helped all the wounded soldiers.”
(Photos by Justin Sullivan + Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Fall is right around the corner, and we're getting amped up for our next session of Selfmade, Brit + Co's 10-week interactive startup school. Designed to help you create a new business or grow your existing one, this course is personally led by Brit + Co founder Brit Morin and co-founder Anjelika Temple, and supported by more than a dozen of the top female entrepreneurs, creatives, and investors in the country. Students receive personalized coaching on everything from how to get out of your comfort zone to how to scale your business, and everything in between. And now, thanks to Office Depot, even more of you can join the course!
For the fall session, we're thrilled to team up with Office Depot to grant 200 FREE scholarship seats to the course. Scholarships are open to US residents, focusing on women of color, women from underserved and underrepresented communities, and women in need of support to help them trail-blaze. After all, we firmly believe that your support system is a huge part of how you achieve greatness, and we are here to cheer all of you on.
To nominate yourself or someone you know for a scholarship, head to our nomination form right here. The deadline for scholarship nominations is September 27th — it's time to take the leap!
Beyond the scholarship, Office Depot is all about helping you accomplish more. Whether it be the start phase, growth phase or keep businesses going phase, Office Depot offers a full suite of business solutions, including services and products, to help you work from anywhere, organize and save time and help build your brand.
So what are you waiting for? Take a chance on yourself and get yourself one step closer to truly being selfmade. Learn more about the Selfmade program, apply for a scholarship and prepare to be inspired :)