Famous WWII Pic Once More a 'Political Lightning Rod'

Memo said Eisenstaedt's V-J Day pic 'The Kiss' would be pulled from VA venues; VA chief says no
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 6, 2024 9:15 AM CST
VA: No, We're Not Yanking Famous 'Kiss' Photo
People are seen next to a famous photograph taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt of a sailor kissing a nurse in New York's Times Square on V-J Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow on April 14, 2015.   (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

The Veterans Affairs secretary has reversed a department memo that aimed to ban VA displays of the iconic "V-J Day in Times Square" photograph of a Navy sailor kissing a woman he didn't know on the streets of New York at the end of World War II. Secretary Denis McDonough acted hours after a copy of a memo from a VA assistant undersecretary requesting the photo's removal from all VA health facilities was shared on social media. The memo had said the photo "depicts a nonconsensual act" and is inconsistent with the department's sexual harassment policy, per the AP. Copies of the memo racked up millions of views on social media, quickly becoming a political lightning rod.

  • The photo: The picture was taken on Aug. 14, 1945—known as V-J Day, the day Japan surrendered to the United States—as people spilled into New York City streets ... celebrating the news. George Mendonsa spotted Greta Friedman, spun her around, and planted a kiss. The two had never met. The photo, by Alfred Eisenstaedt, is called "V-J Day in Times Square" but is known to most people simply as "The Kiss."
  • Friedman's take: Friedman told the Library of Congress in 2005 that "it wasn't a romantic event. It was just an event of 'thank God the war is over.'" She added in an oral history of the photo: "It wasn't my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and kissed or grabbed."
  • A reversal: McDonough on Tuesday tweeted a copy of the image, which appeared in Life magazine, adding, "Let me be clear: This image is not banned from VA facilities." Two people familiar with the memo confirmed it was authentic and said McDonough never approved it, and that he rescinded it once informed of it.
  • WH reaction: "The VA is not going to be banning this photo," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday. "The memo was not sanctioned, and so it's not something that we were even aware of."
  • Fate of its subjects: Friedman died in 2016 at age 92. Mendonsa died in 2019 at age 95.
  • Or were they its subjects? There's long been a debate.
(More V-J Day stories.)

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