The story behind that iconic Times Square photograph

"If that girl did not have a nurse's uniform on, I never would have done that."

George Mendonsa, known across the world as the 'kissing sailor' in the iconic 'V-Day in Times Square' photograph, passed away at the age of 95 today.

The photograph was captured by Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE magazine, and published alongside the caption: 'In New York's Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers.'

The same image was captured from another angle by U.S Navy photojournalist Victor Jorgensen, which was published in The New York Times the day after Eisenstaedt's one for LIFE. His much simpler caption read, 'Kissing the War Goodbye'.

Kissing The War Goodbye, by Victor Jorgensen. Picture: Victor Jorgensen.

The 'white-clad girl' was Greta Zimmer Friedman, who passed away aged 92 on September 8, 2016.

Before he died, George Mendonsa told the American Veterans Center exactly what happened, and why he kissed Ms Zimmer Friedman:

"We had been in the Pacific for two years. Back in '45 now, at that time of the war, we had just taken Okinawa.

That was going to take about six months to get the American army out of Europe, get them all the way out there for the invasion of Japan.

"In July of '45, we get our orders to come home."

Mendonsa's younger sister married a man from the Navy, who was from Long Island, New York.

The brother-in-law's parents were coming for a visit, and bringing their niece along with them.

When Mendonsa laid eyes on the niece, he knew he had to meet her again.

George Mendonsa in an interview with American Veterans Center. Credit: The American Veterans Center.

"I said, 'Holy Jeez, she's beautiful.' So I kept in touch with the niece by phone."

In fact, Mendonsa changed his booking so that he could fly out of New York and get to spend his last few days with the niece, before he had to fly out with the army again.

On his last day in New York, he and the niece were watching the Rockettes in Radio City Music Hall, when they heard commotion out in the streets.

"In the theatre we're wondering, 'What the hell is going on outside there?'

Finally, they stop the show, and they put the lights on, and they say, 'The Japs have surrendered. The war is over.' Well, the people in Radio City went wild.

Mendonsa and the niece went to a bar and had a few drinks, before joining the massive crowds gathering in Times Square, when a nurse in uniform caught his eye.

He recounted a time when the aircraft carrier, the USS Bunker Hill, got hit and the planes on board started exploding.

A number of men were injured and trapped in the fires, and Mendonsa and his crew on their ship, USS The Sullivans, picked them up and transferred them to the hospital ship, USS Solace.

"I saw what those nurses did that day to these guys, and they're hurting, and it's still in the back of my head.

"If that girl did not have a nurse's uniform on, I never would have done that. It's what I remembered out there, and that's what did it.

"Of course, after, I went my way and the nurse went her way. Thought nothing of it."

One week later, the photograph would be published in LIFE magazine, and then shared for decades to come.

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