The course of history was changed on V-J Day, Aug. 14, 1945, and George Mendonsa sealed it with a kiss.
Service members on leave in Manhattan celebrating the end of World War II and victory over the Japanese along with the rest of the Allied world flooded the streets with flags and streamers.
Mendonsa had neither. He grabbed the nearest nurse and kissed her.
Nearby, Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured the moment on camera.
It wasn’t until years later that Mendonsa was identified using facial recognition technology, NBC reports. Anthropology experts agree.
“The evidence is of an overwhelming nature,” said Lawrence Verria, co-author of “The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo That Ended World War II” with George Galdorisi. “No matter how you look at this, the story he gives, the physical oddities that are unique to him, the fact that several experts in different fields have looked over this case and have come to the conclusion that it is George Mendonsa.”
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The woman Mendonsa embraced was most likely dental assistant Greta Zimmer Friedman, of Virginia. Friedman passed away in 2016 at 92 years old.
On Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019, just two days before his 96th birthday, Mendonsa passed away at the age of 95.
The World War II veteran was living in an assisted living facility in Middletown, Rhode Island, and died of complications from severe congestive heart failure.
Life Magazine published the photo on its front page once more in 1980 when Edith Shain told Eisenstaedt that she was the woman the sailor had grabbed for the impromptu smooch. The magazine asked for the sailor to step forward, and more than a dozen did, but Mendonsa’s claim has remained the strongest.
“How many people in a lifetime do something famous?” Mendonsa asked The Daily Mail in 1995. “There isn’t a Navy man alive who didn’t serve in World War II who hasn’t looked at that photo and said, ‘I wish I were that guy.’ I was not looking for any financial gain. I only wanted the recognition.”
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.