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George Mendonsa died on Sunday, February 17, 2019. The former Navy sailor was two days short of his 96th birthday. This news, while sad, is not something that would catch most people’s attention unless they knew Mendonsa, his wife Rita or his daughter Sharon Molleur personally. Most people, quite frankly, have never seen Mendonsa before, or so they think. Mendonsa, however, is one of the two subjects in one of the most famous photographs in the world. On V-J Day, a Navy sailor kissed a woman in New York City’s Time Square to celebrate the end of the war. That man was Mendonsa.

Alfred Eisenstaedt snapped the iconic photo in 1945 but did not document any information about the subject in the image. He likely had no idea that his snapshot would come to symbolize the celebrations, victory and relief that swept across the world at the news that the Second World War had officially ended. Almost since the moment the photograph was released, people had been trying to determine the identities of the man and woman in the image. In the 1960’s, Greta Zimmer Friedman reached out to “Life,” the magazine which originally ran the photograph, and stated that she was the woman in the picture. She had been a dental assistant at the time, but her uniform had led Mendonsa to believe she was a nurse in the war. Regardless of her actual profession, she came to represent the more than 340,000 women who served in the war as pilots, nurses and more. Her identity was confirmed in 1980, and she and Mendonsa remained in contact after they were reunited in 1980.

As for Mendonsa, his identity was verified in a 2012 book called “the Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo That Ended World War II.” Some people, however, remain skeptical about Mendonsa’s claim. Assuming it was Mendonsa, however, the couple that signified the end of an era have both passed, Mendonsa in February 2019 following a seizure and Friedman in 2016 at the age of 92 following a battle with pneumonia.

The photograph of the kissing sailor remains one of the most iconic and most debated images of all time. The controversy over who the kissing sailor really was will likely never be solved in everyone’s eyes, but the power of the photograph cannot be denied. Little says more about the relief and joy of knowing that the worst war in history had ended than that frantic kiss between two strangers in the middle of Time’s Square.

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