V-J Day Kiss


After four years of blackout, all the lights in Time Square went on as Mayor LaGuardia announced the Japanese surrender. In a celebration mirrored around the world, from the moment Japan announced its surrender on August 14, 1945, the New Yorkers took to the Square to celebrate a new era of peace, and hope–the image of which was captured on Alfred Eisenstaedt’s picture of an unknown couple kissing.

The picture was neither a highly anticipated embrace by long-lost lovers, nor it also was staged, as many critics have claimed.Eisenstaedt explained: “There were thousands of people milling around, in side streets and everywhere. Everybody was kissing each other…And there was this Navy man running, grabbing anybody, you know, kissing. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make any difference….I ran ahead of him because I had Leica cameras around my neck, focused from 10 feet to infinity. You only had to shoot…I didn’t even know what was going on, until he grabbed something in white. And I stood there, and they kissed. And I snapped 5 times.”

Yes, he kissed every girl he encountered and this particular nurse slapped him. In the October 1980 issue, in a spread entitled “Who Is the Kissing Sailor?” the LIFE editors reported that eleven men and three women had come forward claiming to be the subjects of the photograph.

A U.S. Navy photojournalist, Victor Jorgensen also captured another view of the same scene, which shows less of Times Square and the bodies of the duo. The photo below was published in the New York Times the following day.