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V-J Day: A Window Into a Vanished World

5 years ago
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Sixty-five years ago on Aug. 14, New Yorkers gathered in Times Square to celebrate the surrender of Japan. On that day, photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt captured what may be the most famous kiss in history.

V-J Day was a unique moment in time. Cameras were abundant enough to preserve events like spontaneous celebrations, and people were not so wary as to turn away the kiss of a stranger. We were all Americans, and we'd defeated the enemy.

Although there exists another photograph of that same V-J kiss, taken by Lt. Victor Jorgensen, there's no comparison to the Alfred Eisenstaedt photograph.

There may be a reason for that. Glenn McDuffie, a former sailor who claims to be the V-J kisser said, "Then I heard someone running and I lifted my head and it was that photographer." In one account, McDuffie claimed he "kissed her for a while" because of the photographer's presence.

McDuffie is one of more than a dozen men who've come forward to claim they were the sailor in the photo. But he's the only one who had an explanation for the awkward angle of the kisser's left arm. "I moved my hand back so he could see her face."

Forensic artist Lois Gibson took measurements and photographs of McDuffie posed in a similar position. She concluded that McDuffie is the guy.

We know who the woman in the photo was. In 1979 she wrote a letter to Eisenstaedt stating she was the woman and asking for a copy of the photograph. Her name was Edith Shain, and she died June 20 at the age of 91.

More recently an eyewitness has added a few details about that kiss on V-J day. Another nurse, Gloria Bullard, stands in the background in the Jorgensen photograph. Bullard said that she got off her 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. shift early and that she and a friend headed for Times Square, along with other New Yorkers who sensed news of a surrender would soon be forthcoming.

Bullard's timeline would peg the iconic photograph not at 7 p.m., when President Harry S. Truman announced on radio the unconditional surrender of Japan, but earlier in the afternoon. If Bullard's account is correct, the mystery of the bright sky in Eisenstaedt's photograph is solved.

Bullard said the nurse "wasn't really struggling. It looked to me like she was trying to keep her skirt down. I got the impression she was enjoying it."

They kissed for a while. When Bullard looked back, "they were still kissing." Which would track with McDuffie's story that the kiss at least partly was for the camera.

"It was a good kiss," McDuffie has said. "It was a wet kiss."

A good, wet kiss. Oh, those were the days, when a good, wet kiss really meant something.

This weekend Times Square unveiled a 25-foot statue of the V-J kiss. The statue is large in scale but short on aesthetics. Take a look for yourself.

The Eisenstaedt photograph, on the other hand, is dear to my heart, regardless of whether or not the picture was a bit staged, and therefore tainted as photojournalism.

It's a peek into a world I never knew. A world that believed total victory was possible. A world that had not yet read John Hersey's searing moment-by-moment account of what happened to the men, women and children in Hiroshima just a few days before the V-J kiss took place.

And something called the Cold War was on the horizon. We just didn't know it yet.
Filed Under: Woman Up, Culture

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The woman standing behind the nurse in the photo is my aunt Mildred Beaudry. Mildred was a nurse, also, but not in uniform that day. Thought you would like to know.....

August 14 2010 at 11:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We need to know about the other 11 people wh appear in the picture

August 14 2010 at 10:01 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

goodgod for us to have an instant celebration.

August 14 2010 at 9:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

For those who think the US was inhumane for Hiroshima & Nagasaki, how inhumane were the Japanese for Bataan, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, & Okinawa. Those that live by the Samurai Sword, die by the Atom Bomb. Alls fair in love & war.

Richard V. Horrell

August 14 2010 at 8:23 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply

I believe pictue was on cover of LIFE magazine. (no longer around) Gerry O'Shea

August 14 2010 at 7:01 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I hope no one has the audacity to tell the US GIs massing to invade Kyushu that President Truman made the wrong A-bomb decision.

August 14 2010 at 6:48 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to GEORGE's comment

Wrong David. As gruesome as the A-bomb was, it saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives if the war was to continue. Fighting like "men" as you put it is just plain stupidity if there's another alternative to end the fighting quickly. Japan was invading other countries and was picking the fight with us. They made that very clear when they attacked us.

August 14 2010 at 8:14 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply

David, it sounds as if you are rationalizing Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor which you may have a valid point based upon the U.S. influence, but can you come up with some historical context that would give the Japanese a good reason to invade Indochina in 1939 and literally slaughter 20 million Chinese and Burmese people. There is a history lesson for you and they don't teach that in school either. What was that purpose? The U.S. may have provoked an attack, but only to prevent the world from being suppressed by an imperialistic power populated with a bunch of lunatic egocentric leaders. I don't like to say it, but Japan did get what was coming to them. I also believe that the world has learned a valuable lesson from Germany and Japan's example from WWII. That is don't be an aggressor and make other peoples of the world submit to your demands or you will face the same just harsh consequence of being bombed until you surrender. Needless to say there hasn't been a need to use a nuke since Hiroshima, so I think everyone has gotten the point.

August 14 2010 at 11:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

if you go to san diego, there is a statue of the picture near the midway muesem

August 14 2010 at 6:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was under the impression that the sailor was so excited and happy about the results of the war that he had acted on impulse. Those were definitely the good ol' days. An incident like that these days would probably end up with a different outcome with the whole Navy would get sued!

August 14 2010 at 6:31 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply

Unfortunately, our nation is now populated by so many bleeding heart sympathizers, I wonder if we have the will to again defeaat a mortal enemy. IF we do, we should be about the business of doing just that instead of goofing along for 9 years in a losing military action. Where is a Harry Truman when you need them? We need to elect one in the worst kind of way.

August 14 2010 at 6:26 PM Report abuse +13 rate up rate down Reply

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not monstrous events, except from the point of view of the people who were there. It was doing what we had to in order that the war end and peace once again be. That war might still be going on unless the Japanese ran out of people to fly planes and shoot. Of course, it would be better if the bombs had not had to be dropped. There was hope for a time that the energy source discovered for them would be used for peaceful purposes but people are, after all, people and cannot resist the use of a new weapon. God help us.

August 14 2010 at 6:24 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

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