Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Kissing Sailor by Lawrence Verria and George Galdorisi

Why I Read It: My never-ending pursuit of every last story from World War II.

Summary: "The Mystery Behind the Photo That Ended World War II" (also the subtitle).

My Thoughts: It's one of those weird coincidences of history. After taking one of the most iconic photographs of the twentieth century, the photographer, Alfred Eisenstadt of Life magazine, never bothered to get the names of the sailor and (alleged) nurse who locked in an embrace on V-J Day, 1945 in Times Square. Let's face it - there was a lot of kissing going on in Times Square on that day, and in the tumult of activity, he probably figured such details would not be noteworthy. After all, the sailor and the nurse stood for just about everything that had to do with the day: passion, relief, and an unfathomable number of young Americans released from almost certain death in an invasion of mainland Japan.

So who were they? That's what the authors set out to find out.

There have been many pretenders to the crowns. Without picking sides, it's still correct to say so, as there can obviously only be one sailor and one nurse. And the authors make a point of stating that whether or not they are correct in their assertions, the many veterans who have come forward as "the" kissing sailor at least should be given the respect of being heard, after their service to and sacrifices for our country.

From the start, the authors' confidence is a bit overwhelming, so much so that it made me step back and say, "Well, now, they really have to convince me." Did they? I'm 95% convinced on the sailor, probably 100% on the "nurse" (who, if it really was her, was a dental assistant). There have been forensic studies conducted and testimonials shared from all concerned. The photographer made his choice of the nurse, and she carried that distinction to her death. But was she the one? Not according to the authors.

The authors write authoritatively, technically and succinctly. They bring out the pros and cons of each sailor claimant, including those of the man they ultimately choose, a point which I mentally considered early in the reading (would they detail the potential reasons why he was not the one, or shy away from them?). They bring Life magazine into the fold, in an almost personal way, calling the publishing giant out. After its initial call for the sailor to come forward (after which, Eisenstadt said, about 80 did so), Life stepped back and said that there would never be a conclusive answer to the question. Verria and Galdorisi believe there is one.

There will always be that contingent that says, "Why bother?" The picture stands on its own, and the subjects stand for us all. But if you're interested in knowing the names, of the heartache that ensued for decades after Life's call, this book is well worth the time.


  1. I can't understand why you would claim to be the person in the picture when you are not. Maybe after enough time, you really think you are. I'll have to read the book to find out.

    In your quest to read all things WWII, you have to read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. An amazing story.


    1. Title noted! As far as claiming you were the one, I think that yes, there are sham artists out there, but then there are those who probably did the same thing. Times Square was a kissing fest that day and especially later that night. There were probably thousands of such exchanges just in that one place. With the identities hidden and the uniforms being default clothing for so many Americans for the era (how many sailors were walking around in their uniforms that day in New York City?), I could see how some people could be tricked into thinking it could be them.