The man in the iconic photo of an exuberant Navy sailor kissing a woman in New York City’s Times Square at the end of World War II has died.
George Mendonsa, 95, had a seizure and fell in an assisted living facility in Middletown, Rhode Island, his daughter, Sharon Molleur, told the Providence Journal. He lived there with his wife of 70 years, Rita, and died Sunday, two days short of his 96th birthday.
The photo was taken Aug. 14, 1945, which is known as V-J Day, the day Japan officially surrendered to the United States in World War II. Published in Life magazine as “V-J Day in Times Square,” it came to represent how joyful Americans and people across the world felt at the end of the war, in which 406,000 Americans died and 671,000 were wounded, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Other commemorations of V-J Day mark Sept. 2, 1945, the Japan formally surrendered to Allied forces.
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More: Woman in iconic WWII Times Square kissing photo dies
When photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt snapped the picture in 1945, he did not document any information about the photo’s subjects, and their identities were a mystery for years. Even today, people have used everything from 3D face scanning to the position of the sun in the photo to try to determine exactly whom the couple was.
Mendonsa kissed dental assistant Greta Zimmer Friedman, mistakenly thinking she was a nurse in the war because of her uniform. She came to represent the 342,000 women the Census Bureau says served in the war as pilots, nurses and more.
Friedman reached out to Life in the 1960s after seeing the photo in a book of Eisenstaedt’s photography to notify the magazine it was her in the picture. The magazine told her it was another woman until 1980 when representatives contacted her and she met with Eisenstaedt, according to an interview with the Library of Congress.
Mendonsa’s identity was verified by a 2012 book titled “The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo That Ended World War II,” although some are still skeptical.
Friedman died in 2016 at 92 years old after a struggle with pneumonia. She was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with her husband.
Contributing: The Associated Press