The Kissing Soldier is a famous photograph that portrayed a US Navy sailor holding and kissing a total stranger, a female dental assistant, openly on the Times Square in New York, where people gathered to celebrate the Victory over Japan Day on 14 August 1945. The sudden moment was captured by Alfred Eisenstaedt, a renowned American photographer and photojournalist of that time, who was busy in continuous clicking of the rapidly changing events during the celebration and did not have the opportunity to get the names and other details.
However, the most important factor that made him capture the moment was the spontaneity in which the nurse was snaffled and kissed. The photograph taken just south of Forty-Fifth Street looking north from a location where Broadway and Seventh Avenue converge, does not clearly show the faces of the persons involved, but the presence of several jubilant and smiling onlookers was very much evident.
Later, in an interview, Alfred Eisenstaedt said, he saw the sailor running along the street grabbing all the women, young girls and old ladies alike, and kissing them all. Although he was running ahead the sailor, looking back over his shoulder and took several shots, none of them was up to his satisfaction. Suddenly, as he noticed the young nurse in her white attire, he focused on her, and as he had hoped, the sailor came along, grabbed the nurse, and bent down to kiss her, and as their lips locked, his left arm supported her neck. The contrast between her white dress and the sailor's dark uniform gave him a satisfactory impact. After viewing all the four of his exposures in sequence, it becomes clear that the nurse involved in the shot was defensively pulling down her skirt, not swooning in his embrace.
Another view of the same moment was captured by US Navy photojournalist Victor Jorgenson, which showed less of Times Square in the background and the lower legs and feet of the subjects, but showing clearly the powerful lip-lock Although the angle of this photograph may be judged as less interesting artistically than that of the Eisenstaedt photograph, it clearly indicated the exact location of the iconic kiss that took place in the front of the Chemical Bank and Trust Building, with the Walgreens Pharmacy on the façade of the building, clearly visible in the background.
The photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt made a sensation as it appeared in Life magazine a week later, depicting a white-clad girl clutching her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers in New York’s Square. Later, it became one of the iconic photographs of the 20th century and a popular image used on posters.
After the photograph of the kissing couple appeared in Life, several people claimed to be the kissing couple, until the facial recognition technology could ultimately confirm their identity as George Mendonsa and Greta Friedman, both of whom were unaware that they were photographed.
According to George Mendonsa, after having finished a year and a half of grueling sea duty in the Pacific as the 1st class Quartermaster, he was enjoying five weeks of leave on shore in his New York apartment with his wife before returning to his ship, the USS The Sullivans. On hearing the news that the Japanese surrender was imminent, he joined the thickening crowds in Times Square, after celebrating with multiple drinks at the Child’s Restaurant. He grabbed and kissed the nurse in the photograph, as she reminded him of the nurses, the angels in white, on a hospital ship, who untiringly took care of the wounded soldiers.
On the other hand, as part of a history project on veterans, Greta Zimmer Friedman told the Library of Congress that on that particular day, she had gone to get the fresh news at Broadway and Seventh Avenue during a work break. However, she was not feeling comfortable going out that day in her bright white dental assistant uniform and was anxious to get back to her office quickly, as she was aware of the seedy reputation of Times Square during the war. But before she took any action to leave the place, suddenly, the sailor grabbed and kissed her.
Her impulsive attempt to physically separate her body from the intruder proved a futile exertion against the dark-uniformed man’s stronghold, and she lost her control as the man was much bigger and stronger. It was not her choice to be kissed, and it was not that much of a kiss. It was an impulsive act of joy and just an act of silence, as no words were exchanged between them. Later she realized that it was a kiss of relief, and she was not the only woman kissed on that day in Times Square. On that day all the sailors and soldiers present in Times Square kissed women indiscriminately, as they were happy, as they would not be asked to go back to war, as they had enough of it.
However, they were not only the army men who kissed women on that day in Time Square. Photographs depicting lots of other women being accosted, chased, and kissed against their will are stored at the National Archives. While a moving image showing a man sitting on the curb was pulling the passing women on his lap, other jubilant and exuberant soldiers and sailors even molested women or stripped them of clothing. Even, a policeman who attempted to intervene was knocked down, reported The Washington Post.
Though the iconic photograph was long regarded as celebratory and romantic, many view the non-consensual kiss as a very public act of sexual assault, and in the 2000s, the photograph began to be criticized as a depiction of sexual assault, based on evidence that the woman had not consented to be kissed.
Nevertheless, along with George Mendonsa, Greta Friedman was invited to attend several civic events and anniversary celebrations of the victory, and although they participated, she never agreed to a re-enactment of the kissing scene.