Sailor in famous celebratory kiss served on ship now resting in Buffalo

Feb 19, 2019

His spontaneous kiss of a passing woman in Times Square was captured on film and published by Life Magazine. George Mendonsa died last weekend at the age of 95 but a part of his life now rests docked in the waters of the Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park.

Mendonsa was in Times Square, on a date while on leave, when the news broke that Japan had surrendered, thus ending World War II. While joining countless others in the streets of New York City to celebrate the news, he spotted a woman in a nurse's outfit - a dental technician - and gave her a kiss. At least two photographers, Victor Jorgensen and Alfred Eisenstaedt, captured the moment. Eisenstadt's version ended up on the cover of Life Magazine.

This is Victor Jorgensen's version of the photo showing sailor George Mendonsa kissing Greta Zimmer Friedman in Times Square, as news broke that Japan has surrendered and World War II had ended. Albert Eisenstadt's photo of the same scene was later published on the cover of Life Magazine.
Credit National Archives

He served on the USS The Sullivans, a now-decommissioned destroyer which is included among the fleet now retired and docked on Buffalo's waterfront. John Branning, Superintendent of Ships at the Naval & Military Park, says there's a display in the mess deck of The Sullivans that tells the tale.

Mendonsa, Branning explained, never earned any money from being in the photo and was among a handful of veterans who sought credit.

"George tried to get Time-Life to verify that it was him. There were actually three or four photographs that were snapped in quick succession and the photographer never thought to get anybody's names," Branning explained.

Volunteers from the Naval War College took up Mendonsa's cause and, in 2005, declared he was indeed the sailor in the photo.

"In the black and white you can clearly see, when it's blown up, there's a 'GM' tattooed on his wrist," Branning said. "That corresponded to his name. The other individuals who claimed to be (in the photo) didn't have that. And there were scars on his wrist."

The stranger in the nurse's uniform, Greta Zimmer Friedman, died in 2016.

Meanwhile, the woman with whom Mendonsa was out on the date evidently took the spur-of-the-moment kiss in stride. She later married and became Mrs. Rita Mendonsa, and was his wife for approximately seven decades, living in the same assisted-care center where George Mendonsa resided until his death.

Her face is visible behind Mendonsa's shoulder in the copyrighted version of Eisenstaedt's Life Magazine cover photo.