On August 14, 1945 Japan accepted the terms of surrender laid out to them by the Allied Powers. While a formal signing of a surrender document would not be until later on September 2, the initial announcement was enough to cause celebrations around the world, known as “Victory over Japan” or “V-J Day”. The United States was no exception to the outbreak of spontaneous revelry, as was the case in New York City’s Times Square, where a random gesture was captured by photographers and immortalized as an iconic image of the end of World War II.
That was the picture entitled “V-J Day in Times Square” by the late photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt which appeared in Life Magazine, depicting a Navy sailor dipping a nurse in her white uniform and planting a kiss on her lips. With the passing of decades the identities of the impromptu couples was verified as those of George Mendonsa (the sailor, whose girlfriend and eventual wife was in the background of an unused shot) and Greta Zimmer, who was actually not a nurse but a dental assistant.
Recently there came some sad news: Greta Zimmer-Friedman has died, according to her son Joshua Friedman who told CBS News, last Thursday September 8. She had been living at a nursing home in Richmond, Virginia for the past two years, where she was having health complications due to her advanced age, ultimately succumbing to pneumonia at 92 years old.
An Austrian Jew, Greta Zimmer had fled with her sisters to America at the onset of the Holocaust brought about by Adolf Hitler’s regime. Her parents, who had planned to follow their children later, were caught and perished in concentration camps. She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and supported her sisters by designing dolls’ clothes in addition to working as an assistant to brother dentists who with a joint practice clinic.
Zimmer had been on break from work during the V-J Day revelry on Times Square and was watching the celebration when George Mendonza grabbed her for the kiss. In her own words during a 2012 CBS interview, “I did not see him approaching, and before I know it I was in this tight grip.” Mendonsa explained his action as being driven by admiration for the nurses he saw tending to survivors from the sunken carrier USS Bunker Hill, who were rescued by his ship USS Sullivans. Having mistaken Zimmer for a nurse because of her white uniform, he decided to kiss her. Mendonsa then went on his way with his bemused girlfriend unaware that he and Zimmer had been photographed.
CBS News reunited Mendonsa and Zimmer at the famous Times Square spot in 2012. Joshua Friedman said his mother will be laid to rest with her late husband Dr. Mischa Friedman at Arlington National Cemetery.
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