The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo That Ended World War II
Author: Lawrence Verria, George Galdorisi
Publisher: Naval Institute Press (2012)
Binding: Hardcover, 224 pages
It’s hard to imagine that it took 67 years to discover and prove the true identity of the two people in the iconic 1945 LIFE magazine photograph, but co-authors Verria and George Galdorisi have done just that.
“The Kissing Sailor” tells the story behind LIFE’s famous Times Square picture that celebratedJapan’s surrender and the end of Word War II. It details the meticulous research and investigation of multiple claims to the sailor role and the cases of several contenders for the “nurse” in the photo.
LIFE never made any attempts to identify the subjects in the shot taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt, nor did the photographer, considered by many to be the father of photojournalism. It was only in 1979, after Edith Shain presented herself to the world as the “nurse,” that LIFE became interested in identifying the sailor. In 1980, 35 years after the original photo appeared, LIFE issued an invitation for the unknown sailor to identify himself. The magazine was inundated with candidates for the sailor and, despite Ms. Shain’s generally recognized identity as the nurse, several women claiming the role also showed up at the LIFE event.
Incredible as it seems, and despite the photo having appeared in other LIFE books and publications since the original 1945 issue, the man and woman whom the authors ultimately identify as the true subjects did not see the photo until 1979 or 1980.
The co-authors develop and present scientific evidence that debunks the claims of all the contenders and proves the two people in Eisenstaedt’s picture to be George Mendonsa and dental assistant – not nurse – Greta Friedman.
The final chapter of the book calls Time-Life to task for its role in thwarting the attempts of the true sailor and nurse to gain recognition. The authors even offer LIFE a face-saving script for acknowledging the true subjects of the famous photo.
Thirty-three pages of scrupulous notes, bibliography and an index offer documentation of the authors’ exhaustive investigation and pursuit of the truth.
Read this book if you enjoy a true mystery, impressive detective work, suspense and entertainment. History buffs and collectors of factoids will enjoy learning tidbits aboutTimes Square, the role of “lit” billboards, the progress of the art and technology of photography, Eisenstaedt’s contribution to the field, and the impact of LIFE magazine and the photo-essay on today’s culture.
Reviewed by: Candace Thompson (2013)