VJ-Day: The Kiss
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    Cool VJ-Day: The Kiss

    VJ-Day The Kiss and more

    It seems as if everybody's claiming to be the sailor--or the nurse he's kissing--in the famous photograph taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE magazine 50 years ago on V-J Day, August 14, 1945.

    The most recent claimant is Carl "Moose" Muscarello, an ex-cop from New York, who has been identified by the self-proclaimed then-nurse, Edith Shain as the man who kissed her in Times Square. They've appeared on television last week to broadcast their claims. But LIFE magazine has never identified the couple in the historic embrace--and probably never will.

    In the past, some dozen ex-sailors have claimed to be the amorous seaman. And at least two other former nurses have identified themselves as his partner in Eisenstaedt's classic image.

    From the August 1980 issue of LIFE, EDITH SHAIN SAYS SHE'S THE V-J DAY NURSE

    Who was the Nurse? Edith Shain had just begun her nursing career when she went to see the V-J Day melee--and was promptly set upon. Then single, she was unastonished--"at that time in my life everyone was kissing me." She recognized herself in LIFE but kept her secret. "I didn't think it was dignified but times have changed." Now, a teacher, part-time nurse and a grandmother, Mrs. Shain, Eisie says, is the "vivacious, lovely woman."


    Our story so far: It all started coming back to pretty Edith Shain as she studied once more the famous picture of the nurse being embraced by the sailor there in Times Square that glorious V-J Day 35 years ago. She decided the time had come to declare her identity as the woman in Alfred Eisenstaedt's photograph.

    Eisie, delighted with the discovery, flew to Beverly Hills to photograph Edith as she appears today at 62--and that story ran in LIFE in August, 1980, along with a request for the real sailor to please step forward. Thus it was that memories stirred old seafaring hearts across the land, moments of danger and tossing seas and those too-brief winsome moments ashore.

    Then, most vividly, that unforgetable day--August 15, 1945--when any swabbie worth his bell-bottoms kissed any girl within reach.

    No fewer than 10 sailors, as well as two more nurses, have managed to recall to the last detail how it happened and how they happened to be in Times Square--persuading us that all their stories are true. But who is in the picture?

    And who kissed whom?

    Truth betold, only Eisie (who passed away on Wednesday, August 23 at the age of 96) ever knew the answer. But since his notes and other negatives have vanished, he couldn't make a final choice. It leaves us to wonder if, in some almost supernatural way, through the magic of his photographic artistry he didn't manage to get a picture of them all...

    The sailor, says Bill Swicegood, "looks exactly like I looked--the hands, the body, everything," including, he notes, his then 32-inch waist. The odds too are on his side, says Swicegood, 55, a Kansas City, Mo., artist. "I must have kissed a thousand women that day in Times Square." Bill says his claim has achieved the status of local oral history due to all the years he has hauled out that picture in boastful kiss-and-tell.

    That distinctive way his hairline comes to a point at the temple--that cinches it, believes Clarence "Bud" Harding. "My hair stylist," reports Bud, 60, a printer at the Indianapolis Star and News, "says very few people have that." But that's not all, notes Harding, pointing to his clincher, the hands match up just right. "I also have a bulging vein," Bud says, elbowing aside any lingering doubts, "on my right arm when I apply pressure."

    When Wallace C. Fowler confessed to his wife that he was the exuberant sailor, she retorted that that sailor appeared to be, well, taller. "Consequently," says the five- foot-seven Fowler, 55 of Tampa, Fla., "I perished the thought." But the blissful memory lingered. Fowler hit upon an explanation for the apparent discrepency: "I realized that the angle of the camera could give a taller impression."

    George Mendonsa, 57, who now runs a fish business in Newport, R.I., recalls the moment clearly. "I had quite a few drinks that day," he says, and I considered her one of the troops--she was a nurse." George says that in the photograph, dangling from his pants pocket, is his newly acquired Quartermaster 1st Class rating patch, which he couldn't take time to sew on. He was just too busy with victory ceremonies.

    "It suddenly hit me," says Jack Russell, "that our ship wouldn't be going to Japan and that the whole terrible thing was ending." Russell, now a 54-year-old psychologist in Whittier, Calif., recalls that he immediately began to manifest a high affect. "I started grabbing girls like everyone else was doing and started kissing." His clinical proof that he is the man: "My unusual left-handed kissing clutch."

    Marvin Kingsbury avers, "I was the only one on the street who did anything like that just then." The instant news was flashed of the Japanese surrender, recalls Kingsbury, 54, a Round Lake Beach, Ill., school custodian, he turned to three pals and cried, "The first girls we come to, grab 'em and kiss 'em." To strengthen his claim, Marvin points to a mole he can discern on his right cheek.

    James Kearney, 59, a refrigeration mechanic at Harvard University and second from left in the group of beer drinkers notes that although he stood five feet eight inches tall in 1945, he is nonetheless the swabbie in the picture. "That day I felt ten feet tall!"

    Donald Bonsack, 56, of Germantown, N.Y., at last decided, "I've lived with this for so long, I quess I can take it." His explanation: the bare sleeve. "I had a rate on my right arm but I had lost it for insubordination--which I won't go into. I was a hell-raiser then."

    Arthur Leask, 53 a teacher of history both at Point Pleasant Beach high school and Ocean County College in New Jersey, says he held back the truth for years, but he recollects precisely how he kissed the nurse--and the little old lady in the background too.

    John Edmonson, 53, of Charlotte, N.C., explains his lack of stripe: he had joined just months before. On a pass at the time, Edmondson had gone to Times Square, "where a lot of kissing was going on." He says, "That's my poise."

    The brother and sister of Walker Irving, who died in 1951, remember the picture hanging in the family home. Walker, holding a niece above, called his folks in Portland, Maine, that August to tell them he was in LIFE, and he immediately became "a famous-faced man." For the Irvings, there is just no question about the identity of the sailor: "Look at those hands!"


    "Let me tell you," says Edith Shain, "the sun goes up, the sun goes down. It didn't change things. It wasn't a big deal." After all, a pretty girl gets more than one kiss, right? But for the record, Edith describes the situation. "It was a good kiss, it went on for a long time," she recalls. "I closed my eyes, I didn't resist. I think, sometimes, if I hadn't been with my girlfriend, I might have stayed."

    Greta Friedman is understanding. "There's no doubt that Mrs. Shain was there and got kissed," she grants, "because every female was grabbed and kissed by men in uniform." But, says Greta, 56, of Frederick, Md., "it definately is my shape. I used a comb in my hair. I had a purse like the one in the nurse's hand. i remember being kissed by a sailor, right on Broadway."

    Just before it happened, Barbara Sokol recalls, she got "an ucky, sloppy kiss" and was wiping her mouth with a handkerchief when up walked this gob who yelled, "'Gotcha' I said, 'No! No! No!' and when hwe bent me back I thought, 'My God, I'm gonna fall'" Barbara, 56, a nurse in Derby, Conn., has kept the pictured moment preserved in a frame, "my one claim to fame.


  2. #2
    I guess we'll never know, and that's okay.


    Today's Educational Sources and suggestions for further reading:




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