The Real Sailor-Kissing-Nurse Story: Kissing for Glory


It is often said that a photo is worth a thousand words. In still life, a memory is captured that creates history for generations and generations to come. The photographer is immortalised because of his acumen to capture the best moment while the subject of the photo gets recognition and celebrity status all over.

In the year 1945 on the day the Second World War came to an end, Alfred Eisenstaedt a renowned American photographer and photojournalist of that time, captured what would be regarded as one of the most awe-inspiring and iconic photographs of that era. Even six decades later, the photograph clicked does not fail to inspire the youth and displays to the world the meaning of the term jubilation and exhilaration.

Credits: Lt. Victor Jorgensen/

Credits: Lt. Victor Jorgensen/

Known as the V-J (Victory over Japan) Day Kiss, the captured photo of a sailor kissing a nurse in New York’s Times Square on the 14th August 1945, made waves all over the world as it got featured in the LIFE magazine edition published the following week.

The Story of the Kiss

Not all kisses are planned (some are, but we are not talking about them) and this was one of them. The sailor was rejoicing about the declaration of the Japanese surrender to the American forces and according to the memoirs stated by the photographer to a few magazines, was trying to kiss every woman on sight to display his exuberance about the win.

According to the photographer, the most important factor that made him capture this moment was due to the spontaneity in the way the nurse was snaffled and given a kiss, accounting for a worthy Kodak moment. The photojournalist, Alfred Eisenstaedt, also spoke about the contrast in the attire of the sailor kissing nurse that offered the photograph the clarity and resonance that enabled it to become such a popular figure.

The photograph displays the two subjects – the nurse kissing sailor – without displaying their actual identity. Alfred Eisenstaedt accounts this for the rapidity with which he had to click the photo without missing a moment of the actual kiss. This lack of clarity about the subjects’ identity, in the past couple of decades led to a massive search being carried out to find out who the sailor and the nurse were.

Ironically, all three parties in the picture – the sailor kissing nurse and the photographer himself did not have any personal

details to pass on in case for any future encounters. The photographer was caught up in the spontaneity of the moment while both the subjects were too enraptured by the import of the clicking of their photo to think about the beyond.

Although the photo shows an unclear image about the subjects, it does full justice to the background of the impromptu osculation. The Times Square is prominently visible which in turn highlighted the kiss and the subjects even more.

Identifying the Subjects

A lot many men and women came forward declaring themselves to be the parties in the famous photo. But none were proved to be the protagonists in the photograph. Finally, in the late 70s and towards the early 80s, a woman named Edith Swain came forward and was found to be the nurse in the photographic documentary. However, even while her identity had been proved successfully, the photographer himself was unable to verify the claims of Ms. Swain as he died even before he could identify her personally.

Ms. Swain who herself expired at the age of 91 in the year 2010, was 26 at the time when the photo was clicked. Talking about the still-documentary, Ms. Swain said it was about hope, promise about the future, love and most importantly peace

As regards the male subject, three men professed to be the sailor in the picture and each was found to be very close to being the sailor. But after going through various polygraph tests and other tests to determine the authenticity of the three men – George Mendonca, Carl Muscarello and Glenn McDuffie – only McDuffie’s claims were found to be authentic and the identity of the kissing sailor and a nurse came to light.

Present Cult Happening

The sailor kisses nurse picture has a cult following all over the world. On the occasion of the V-J Day’s 60th anniversary as a part of the re-enactment of the happenings, a full-size statue in bronze was displayed in the Times Square. In the parade at the time of the re-enactment, Ms. Swain and Mr. Mendonca (at the time in contention to being the sailor) were participants though they did not re-enact the kiss to commemorate the occasion.

Photographic memories do not fade away. They are omnipresent and their omnipresence keeps one aware of their existence for time immemorial.


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