Victory in Japan Day will forever be entwined with an iconic photo of a sailor dipping a nurse then kissing her deeply. For years, the story behind the kiss was a mystery, but as time passed, details behind the kiss between then 22-year-old George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer became known. Who knew that Mendonsa’s future wife was standing just a few feet off-camera as the famous kiss was planted?
Now, a piece of American history has passed. Greta Zimmer Friedman, the nurse that had that iconic smooch, has died at 92.
Greta Zimmer and her family fled a war-torn Austria in 1938. According to various family members and historians, she, like so many others when learning of Japan’s unconditional surrender on August 14, 1945, took to the streets to learn more information and celebrate VJ Day. That’s when Mendonsa, on a date with his future wife, would swoop in and create an iconic moment.
According to Mendonsa, bars were pouring drinks non-stop after the news broke. As a sailor who saw many friends die in the war, he was overcome with emotion, tipsy and decided to kiss a nurse. From the late Friedman’s perspective, it wasn’t all that romantic:
“And then I was grabbed,” she says. “That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.”
It’s definitely not something that would happen today, but Friedman’s son explained to the New York Daily News that she didn’t mind all that much.
“My mom always had an appreciation for a feminist viewpoint, and understood the premise that you don’t have a right to be intimate with a stranger on the street.” However, he said, “she didn’t assign any bad motives to George in that circumstance, that situation, that time.”
Now we know context is king. It was a special time in an and now another of the Greatest Generation has passed.