'Kissing Sailor' from iconic Life magazine photo dies

George A. Mendonsa, who claimed to be the sailor kissing a nurse in an iconic photograph published in Life magazine on V-J Day, died early Sunday at an assisted living facility in Middletown, Rhode Island, the Providence Journal reported. He died two days shy of his 96th birthday, the newspaper reported.

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Mendonsa claimed he was the sailor caught in a photograph taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt in New York's Times Square on Aug. 14, 1945, although he could never convince the editors of Life, the Journal reported.

The nurse in the photo -- Greta Zimmer Friedman -- died in 2016, WPRI reported. In an interview for the Veterans History Project in 2005, Friedman confirmed it was Mendonsa who kissed her that day in New York. They did not know each other in 1945 but met again in 1980 at the request of Life magazine.

Lawrence Verria, co-author of the 2012 book, "The Kissing Sailor," with George Galdorisi, said facial recognition technology and the findings of experts in photography and forensic anthropology ruled out other sailors who had made claims, the Journal reported.

“The evidence is so overwhelming.” Verria told the newspaper Sunday night. “There really is no doubt. ... This man deserves the credit during his lifetime.”

The photo, taken by Eisenstaedt, was called “V-J Day in Times Square.” People had gathered in Times Square to celebrate the announcement of Japan’s surrender to the Allies, ending World War II.

Friedman told the Veterans History Project she "had no clue" who kissed her on V-J Day. She was wearing white that day, but was dressed as a dental assistant, she said.

"I went straight to Times Square where I saw on the lighted billboard that goes around the building, 'V-J Day, V-J Day,' and that really -- that really confirmed what the people have said in the (dental) office," Friedman said in her interview. "And so suddenly I was grabbed by a sailor, and it wasn't that much of a kiss, it was more of a jubilant act that he didn't have to go back, I found out later, he was so happy that he did not have to go back to the Pacific where they already had been through the war. And the reason he grabbed someone dressed like a nurse was that he just felt very grateful to nurses who took care of the wounded."

Friedman confirmed Mendonsa was the man who kissed her that day, and they re-enacted the scene for Life in 1980, according to the Veterans History Project.

Mendonsa told Verria he kissed Friedman because he had seen nurses helping the wounded while he was serving in the Pacific theater.

Mendonsa was on leave and happened to be in Times Square when the end of the war was announced.

"He sees the nurse, he can't help himself," Verria told the Journal.

The woman in white symbolized nurses he saw helping sailors, so he grabbed her and kissed her, Verria said.

“It’s what everybody was doing on Aug. 14, 1945,” Verria told the newspaper. “Everybody was kissing and hugging. As soon as the kiss was over, they went their separate ways.”

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