The kiss in Times Square as a symbol of the end of the war: the story of one photo

On August 14, 1945, around 7:00 p.m. Tokyo time, Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) 124 of Japan signed general military and naval order No. 1 for the unconditional surrender of the Japanese armed forces. At approximately 11:00 p.m. the NHK Broadcasting Corporation recorded Hirohito reading out the order. A gramophone record was thus made of the formal address by the Japanese generalissimo, and the next day, on August 15, it was br

A couple photographs themselves kissing in Times Square near the a sculpture at the site of the historic LIFE Magazine cover photograph, of an unidentified sailor kissing nurse Edith Shain, by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt August 14, 2010 in New York. The sculpture is commemorating the 65th anniversary of what Americans call V-J Day, marking the victory over Japan that ended the war in 1945. AFP PHOTO / DON EMMERT

oadcast all over the world. Yes, the formal capitulation of Japan took place on September 2, 1945, aboard the American battleship “Missouri” in Tokyo Bay, but the message of August 15 caused everybody’s jubilation and conscience that all troubles were over. Spontaneous public festivities began all over America, and a photograph was taken in New York’s famous Times Square, which, despite being somewhat frivolous by the standards of the time, became one of the symbols of the end of World War II.

The kiss of a young sailor and a nurse was captured by photographer Alfred Eisenstadt. He became famous back in the early 1930s. It was Eisenstadt photographed the first meeting between Hitler and Mussolini in 1934, and the year before he took a characteristic picture of Goebbels with sizzling eyes. In 1935, Eisenstadt moved to the United States and took a job at Life magazine. Many of the heroes of his photos, he shot inconspicuously, but this famous shot was made out in the open after several attempts.

Most sources refer to the photo as “Kiss in Times Square” or “Victory Day over Japan in Times Square”. However, the author himself referred to it as “Unconditional Surrender.”

Eisenstadt observed the festivities that unfolded in Times Square after President Truman’s speech. At one point in his lens caught an unusual scene: a cheerful young sailor in his twenties with an excess of emotion grabbed an arm passing by a young nurse and began to kiss her. The kiss lasted long enough for the photographer to take a few pictures and even adjust the camera a bit. According to him, the hero of the photo was running down the street and hugging all the women in his field of vision, regardless of age. At one point he embraced “something white,” and the contrast of light and dark shapes immediately caught the photographer’s eye. The young men kissed and immediately scattered in different directions, their names remaining unknown.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that Life magazine received a letter from a woman named Edith Shane telling them she was the one in the picture. It turned out to be more difficult to identify the daring sailor: at least a dozen men claimed that they were the ones in the photo. Each “pretender” Shane asked what he said to her after the kiss. Some said he asked for a name, some said he asked for a phone number, some said he made a date. In fact, the young man didn’t say a word.

Back in the 1970s, a woman reached out to Life magazine’s editorial staff to tell them that the Eisenstadt card depicted her
The identity of the young sailor has never been reliably established. The names of Carl Muscarello, George Mendoza, and Glenn McDuffie are the most frequently cited. Curiously enough, the latter also insisted on a forensic examination to prove that he was the one in the picture. In fact, what may well be, all three were kissing strangers that day… and not just them.

Subsequently, a sculpture was erected not far from Times Square that exactly reproduces the scene depicted in the famous photograph. Edith Shane, already an old lady, was also present at the unveiling. She pulled the veil off the statue. In June 2010, the woman passed away at her home in Los Angeles. She was 91 years old, had three children, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

The photo became a symbol of the end of World War II and of an entire era. It was printed on T-shirts, it adorned the walls of homes, it was placed again and again on magazine covers. And near the sculpture in Times Square, hundreds of couples gather each year in mid-August to “reconstruct” the legendary photo.