A Blast Back to the Past

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Caption from the August 27, 1945, issue of LIFE. "In the middle of New York's Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers."

The 14th of August will be seventy years since America celebrated the victory over Japan. The Japanese surrendered and the end of World War 2 was announced in 1945. The famous photo attached to this story known as Kissing the War Goodbye, has a rather remarkable story for being 70-years-old. George Mendonsa, the sailor in the photo, with Greta Zimmer, the woman being kissed, seem to be having a romantic moment at first glance, but there is so much more too it.

Mendonsa was on a date with a woman he thought was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, Rita Petry. He took her to Radio Music City Hall to see a show in the afternoon, but they never got to see the ending of the show. The Music Hall stopped the show, turned the lights on and someone came through the doors shouting “The war is over, and the Japanese have surrendered,” before the show was over.

They left the music hall to celebrate at a local bar a few blocks away. After a few drinks, Mendonsa and Petry went to Times Square, when they passed 7th Avenue at 44 street where Mendonsa noticed a nurse. Caught up in the hype of the war ending, Mendonsa ran to the nurse who wasn’t really a nurse at all but a dental assistant who happened to be walking by. Mendonsa, not knowing, grabbed her by her waist, dipped her back and kissed her in all the excitement. Petry was only a few feet behind them, and in the photo you see her smiling brightly. The photographer just happened to be there at the right time and the right place.

Most women might be a little upset their date left them to kiss another girl, but because it was a happy day and they weren’t engaged, Petry said it was okay. In the end, Mendonsa married the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, Rita Petry. Greta Zimmer also went on to be married and have a family of her own.

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