“In Times Square on V.J. Day, I saw a sailor running along the street grabbing every girl in sight. I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder. Then suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse…I took exactly four pictures. It was done within a few seconds.”
This is the most famous picture that Alfred Eisenstaedt ever took. This image has been reproduced countless times and resulted from Eisie’s instinct for what would make a good photograph. He recounted that he had followed the sailor who was “running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make any difference.”
The picture, that of a sailor in his blue uniform kissing a nurse in her white uniform, with a passion usually reserved for lovers, became synonymous with the mood of celebration the country felt at the war’s end. Even those who did not know his name, knew his picture.
Eisenstaedt was almost 47-years-old when he took that picture. He got it as he got many of his pictures-persistence rather than planning. He often noted that he had learned it was the reaction to an event that created the best picture, rather than the event itself. That day in August of 1945, Eisenstaedt was simply walking among the crowd that had gathered on the streets of New York. One of the people he noticed was a sailor who was kissing his way through the crowd. He followed him long enough to see him grab the woman whose outfit in white brought the contrast of the sailor’s blue to his keen eye. At that moment, Eisenstaedt snapped the picture.
„I will be remembered when I’m in heaven. People won’t remember my name, but they will know the photographer who did that picture of that nurse being kissed by the sailor at the end of World War II. Everybody remembers that.”
For many years, the identities of the sailor and the nurse in the famous picture remained unknown. But in 1980, a woman named Edith Shain stepped forward and said she was the nurse in the photo. In interviews she has claimed that many sailors were out kissing everyone that day because they were happy to be home and would not be going back to war. It took a bit longer for the sailor to be identified. Glenn McDuffie said in 2007 that he was the sailor in the picture. According to McDuffie, he was exiting the subway in New York when a lady expressed how happy she was for him on account of the end of the war. He ran out into the street cheering and hollering, and then grabbed the nurse and kissed her. It is impossible to prove or disprove absolutely the claims of McDuffie and Shain, and Time has said that the reason why the photo has remained so iconic is because it represents everyman.