The Last of “The Kiss”


Image Courtesy of Smithsonian Magazine

Michael Finnen, Staff Writer

August 14th, 1945 is known as V-J Day, or Victory Over Japan Day and marks the end of World War II. As the news reached New York City, everyone began to celebrate with drinks and partying. It was on this day that this picture, dubbed “The Kiss,” was taken. This photo was first published in Life magazine, and it was taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt. It is one of the most famous World War II images and is a symbol of the end of the war. What many of you may not know about this picture, however, is that the two people featured here had never met each other once in their lives. In fact, if this event had happened today, the man would probably be in jail for a sexual harassment charge. Over the years, many have claimed to be the man in the picture, but the most recognized and credible man, supported by facial recognition technology, is named George Mendonsa. The lady that he kissed has been identified to be Greta Friedman, who died in 2016.

Mendonsa recently died, just two days before his 96th birthday. Over the years, he had given his own take on the famous kiss to many reporters who were interested to hear his story. Mendonsa explained that he had thought that Friedman was a nurse, and since he appreciated all of the work they had done during the war to help the many wounded soldiers, coupled with the fact that he had had a few drinks, he decided to kiss her. He said, “it was just plain instinct, I guess. I just grabbed her”. In reality, Friedman was a dental assistant, not a nurse at all. It is also interesting that Mendonsa was with his future wife at the time, who would stay with him for 70 more years, and yet this kiss still happened. Mendonsa and Friedman have both said that the kiss itself was not actually very romantic, as it was more about happiness and relief that the war was finally over. Still very interesting to consider is the very different social norms, as this photo is a shining example of a different time period. It is interesting to see just how much things have changed in only 60-70 years. The authenticity of this photo could never be recreated today.

Eisenstaedt, the man who took the picture, died in 1995, meaning that Mendonsa was the last person truly involved in the photograph to still be alive to tell the tale. It is truly sad that such a hugely influential piece, which has spawned many remakes over the years, will now be nothing more than history. However, this photo will always be just that, important history. As perhaps the most famous photo from the post-World War II era and one that appears in nearly every textbook, Mendonsa’s legacy will not be forgotten. He probably did not think much of it when he smooched a complete stranger, but now, nearly 70 years later, we can look back and remember the true happiness and joy of the end of World War II.