George Mendonsa, the U.S. Navy sailor immortalized in a photo kissing a woman during a celebration of the end of World War II, has died at age 95.
TMZ reports that Mendonsa died Sunday after falling and suffering a seizure at an assisted living facility. He had been living at the facility with his wife of more than 70 years, Rita.
The picture of Mendonsa and the woman, Greta Zimmer Friedman, on Victory over Japan Day is considered to be one of the iconic photos of the 20th century. Mendonsa and Friedman were proven to be the pair in the image 13 years ago through forensic science.
Life Magazine photographer, Alfred Eisenstadt, captured the image on August 14, 1945.
“They threw anything and kissed anybody in Times Square,” wrote Lt. Cmdr. Victor Jorgensen, a Navy photographer who was at the event, in his caption.
According to Navy Times, Mendonsa served on board the destroyer The Sullivans as part of the commissioning crew. Before the war, he was a professional civilian sailor in his family business in Newport, Rhode Island. He eventually rose to the rank of quartermaster 1st class.
Mendonsa was on The Sullivans on May 11, 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa. His ship rescued 166 sailors who had gone overboard after two Kamikazes smashed into their aircraft carrier within 30 seconds of each other. Many of the sailors were wounded, and they transferred many of the injured to the hospital ship Bountiful.
“I saw all those nurses on board the Bountiful who assisted us getting the wounded on board – their abilities and caring left a great lasting impression of nurses in my mind,” he said.
Mendonsa went home for 30 days of leave after The Sullivans was sent to San Francisco for repairs. He was waiting to take a train to the West Coast when he heard news of the Japanese surrender.
The sailor was scheduled to fly out of New York August 15 and was spending the remainder of leave visiting Rita in New York, reports Navy Times.
“We were in Radio City Music Hall watching a show, then someone began to pound on the doors,” he said. “When the doors opened, people began shouting… the war was over.”
Mendonsa and Rita walked through Times Square preparing to head back to Long Island when he saw the nurse, Greta Friedman.
“Everyone was celebrating and I’d had a few drinks in me,” Mendonsa said. “It was a real brief moment, honestly, and all my memories of the wounded being cared for by those nurses came back.”
With Rita watching, Mendonsa grabbed Friedman, kissed her, and went on his way, not realizing the moment was being preserved for all time.
After their identities were proven, the pair reunited in Times Square in 2012 to recreate the famous moment.
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of George Mendonsa, World War II veteran known as the kissing sailor in the famed photo #VJDayinTimesSquare. Many know the photo, but few know the story. Take a moment to listen here: https://t.co/xvxAe5xpzC #RIP pic.twitter.com/NsmHMpPBSN
— American Veterans Center (@AVCupdate) February 18, 2019