V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Photo by by Alfred Eisenstaedt

This photo captured the moment of bliss and euphoria that the citizens of the US felt on August 14, 1945, when the war with Japan was over. The photo became iconic and seems to depict something so important that its imprint on the American psyche is still noticeable nowadays.

And though this photo has been in the limelight for decades, nobody really knows its surprising and unbelievable story.

V-J Day in Times Square—which is also called V-Day or the Kiss—was a spontaneous photo taken on Leica IIIa camera by Alfred Eisenstaedt, one of the most prolific photographers of the 20th century who worked for Life.

The random factor of the photo was due to the unexpectedness of the event. The news about the end of the war spread through the country and, when people started flooding the streets to celebrate, Eisenstaedt just happened to be near Times Square.

The sailor, whose identity became known about 40 years after the photo was taken, was a 22-year-old George Mendonsa on leave from the war. A few weeks before joining the services he ran across Rita Petry, who he said was "the most beautiful woman he ever met", and who became his wife in a year. That day he went on his first date with her and they decided to go to watch “A Bell for Adano” at Radio City Music Hall, which was interrupted by the happy news.

And though the story seems really sweet, Rita Petry is not the woman who George Mendonsa is kissing. Actually, you can see a part of Rita behind her husband-to-be. When the matinee they attended was stopped, everybody went out. The barmen already served drinks to everyone to celebrate and the couple, after having quite a few shots, came out to the streets.

People started quickly gathering at New York's main square and George, after seeing a group of women wearing nurse outfits, kissed one of them in a euphoria fit. Later Mendonsa told the press that he was so drunk he barely remembered kissing the woman.

However, one can see by looking at the photo very attentively that the woman—21-year-old dental assistant Greta Zimmer who immigrated to the US from Austria during the war—doesn't feel too comfortable. The fingers on her hand are tense and her overall pose is not too natural. Later she said: "I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me."

The three protagonists of the photo told the press than no one really minded that much about it. After all, it was a happy day. Their identities were established through forensics anthropology in the 80's. Before that date none of the three spoke about what happened and took it for granted.

Now Greta Zimmer lives in Frederick, Maryland, and she never visited her fatherland after the war since she found out that her parents were killed in concentration camps.

The husband and wife reside happily in Rhode Island and participate in victory parades yearly.

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