Sailor in iconic Times Square pic 'was dating another woman when he kissed nurse'
New York, June 18 (ANI): The true story behind one of the most romantic and enduring photos of the 20th century - that of the iconic V-J Day sailor and 'nurse' smooch during in Times Square during World War II, has finally been revealed.
Since Aug. 14, 1945, the identities of the smooching sailor and the nurse in Alfred Eisenstaedt's Times Square V-J Day photograph have never been determined - until a recent publication of the book The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo that Ended World War II.
There is another person in the frame, one nobody even knew to look for, who makes the image that much more poignant - Rita Petry, the future wife of that sailor, George Mendonsa.
I really liked him, but I didn't know I was the future wife, the New York Post quoted Rita as saying.
I guess I thought he looked nice or something, she said.
To this day, Rita insists that the kiss never bothered her and that the photo, while nice, hasn't changed her life one bit. But much like the photograph itself, nothing is as it seems.
In all these years George has never kissed me like that, she said.
In August 1945, George Mendonsa was 22 years old, a Navy quartermaster on leave from the Pacific theatre. He'd dropped out of school at 16 and worked with his dad, a commercial fisherman, in Rhode Island, enlisting in the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
George didn't like to talk about what he had seen, or his anxiety about what was coming, which everyone knew was the invasion of Japan.
I had just come back from the Philippines, George said,
My ship had seen a lot of action. We were sent back to the States until the Army could get strong enough [to attack], he said.
So instead, he focused on his date with the pretty girl he'd met a few weeks before at a barbecue at his family's house in Rhode Island; she was related to his new brother-in-law. Her name was Rita. She was just 20 years old and lived with her parents in Queens.
She was beautiful I think I fell in love with her the first time I saw her, he said.
The morning of the 14th, George and Rita took the train into Midtown. He was nervous, and he wore his formal Navy uniform - the one he'd just had specially tailored at home in Rhode Island - and carried the chevron badge he hadn't had time to affix.
They were going to Radio City Music Hall, to a 1:05 p.m. showing of 'A Bell for Adano', starring Gene Tierney as a fisherman's daughter who falls in love with the US Army major assigned to her war-ravaged Italian village.
George and Rita never saw the end of the movie.
There was pounding on the doors from outside on the street.
They put the lights on and stopped the show and said, 'The war is over, and the Japanese have surrendered', George said.
George and Rita flew out of Radio City and right into Childs Bar, just a few blocks away. The bartenders had lined up glasses all along the bar and just kept pouring.
I popped quite a few drinks, George said.
Then he and Rita went to Times Square, and as they crossed Seventh Avenue at 44th Street, George caught sight of a woman in a nurse's uniform.
Actually, George has it wrong. It had been three months before, out in the Pacific, aboard the USS The Sullivans. He'd watched on the morning of May 11 as two Japanese kamikaze planes, one after the other, smashed into the nearby USS Bunker Hill, setting off a series of explosions and killing 346 sailors.
George helped pull hundreds of men, some horribly burned, out of the water, and watched with awe as nurses went to work on them.
So on this joyous and unbelievable afternoon, George ran from Rita - the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen - grabbed the first nurse he saw, spun her around, dipped her and kissed her. Rita was just steps behind them, and in the photo she's beaming.
A lot of people want to know what I was thinking, she said.
It was a happy day; I was grinning like an idiot. The kiss really didn't bother me at all. If I had been engaged, maybe, she said.
The kiss did kind of bother someone else, though: the woman in the nurse's uniform, Greta Zimmer, who wasn't even a nurse.
She was a 21-year-old dental assistant from Queens, who, having heard rumours about the end of the war, walked over to Times Square from her office on Lexington Avenue. George says he was so drunk, he doesn't even remember the kiss. Greta says she'll never forget it.
Greta isn't sure how long she was standing there; maybe minutes.
And then I was grabbed, she said.
That man was very strong. I wasn't kissing him. He was kissing me, Greta said.
Just as suddenly, he let her go. George stumbled off towards the subway, Rita trailing behind, and Greta walked back to her office. George and Rita never discussed the kiss, nor did Greta tell anyone what had happened to her.
None of them knew they had just been photographed by Eisenstaedt, that their picture was about to be published in Life magazine, or that, decades later, multiple men and women would come forward claiming to be that sailor and that nurse.
Life magazine published the photo in the issue that ran right after V-J Day, but not on the cover - it was buried on page 27. Over the years, Life ran the image intermittently, but it wasn't until 35 years later, after editors claimed to have discovered the nurse, that the photo caught fire. (ANI)