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Kissing Sailor Photograph: New Book Searches For The Famously Photographed Couple

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Times Square, New York on August 14, 1945, after Japan surrendered to end World War II.
Times Square, New York on August 14, 1945, after Japan surrendered to end World War II.

Life magazine's famous 1945 photo of a sailor kissing his gal in Time Square left no doubt to a battle-weary nation that World War II was over.

What has always been up for argument, however, is the identity of that smooching couple, caught locking lips 67 years ago today.

Various Navy vets and nurses have stepped forward over the years to take credit for that iconic embrace, and now that debate takes a new turn with the publication of "The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo That Ended World War II."

Co-authors Lawrence Verria, a high school history teacher, and George Galdorisi, a retired Navy captain, believe that they've identified the woman as a dental assistant on her lunch break and the man as a tipsy sailor who'd been on a date with another young lady that historic afternoon.

The book vindicates the longstanding claims of George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer Friedman.

"It's a symbol known around the whole world that it's the end of the war," Mendonsa, now 89, told The Huffington Post. "I did it and I want the credit for it."

Others, including a former minor league baseball player in Texas and a retired policeman in Florida, bristle at the notion that they've been ruled out by the authors' evidence.

Mendonsa had been on a date with Rita Petry -- now his wife -- in Radio City Music Hall when it was announced that war in the Pacific was over.

They had a few drinks in a bar and went outside where Mendonsa says he saw a woman in white that reminded him of the nurses who treated sailors wounded in combat. Swept away by the celebration in the streets, he planted a kiss on the woman, who is now believed to be Friedman, as photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt lurked nearby with a camera.

"It seems to me that I've got a whole new life," Friedman, 88, told HuffPost from her Maryland home about the book's assertion that Mendonsa smooched her. "A lot of people wore nurses uniforms. I felt so sure of myself [that she's in the photo], but I couldn't worry about other people."

The mystery had simmered because Eisenstaedt didn't ask the pair for their names. It seemed like their identities were lost forever until 1979 when Edith Shain wrote to Eisenstaedt saying she was the nurse.

(Story continues below)

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Her claim held up for years and it prompted the magazine to search for her frisky companion. Numerous kissing candidates have laid claim to the honor, although Life has never officially sided with any of the men, according to an Associated Press report from 2007.

Friedman, an Austrian Jew whose parents died in the Holocaust, quickly challenged Shain's revelation. She and Mendonsa were brought together in 1980 with others who'd thrown their name into the hat to be dubbed the legitimate kissers. "I just recognized him," said Friedman. "He's a very big man. It couldn't have been anyone else. I felt very natural next to him."

But not everyone buys the version anointing Friedman and Mendonsa. Glenn McDuffie, a one-time prospect with the Washington Senators, contends the picture is of Shain and him.

"I kissed that woman, because she held out her arms and invited me to her," said McDuffie, 85, from Arlington, Tex. He said he stepped off a subway and was told that the war was over. "She had the biggest mouth I ever seen. It went from ear to ear."

McDuffie's place among the possible sailors was elevated when Lois Gibson, a forensic artist for the Houston Police Department, said in 2007 that she'd positively matched him with the man in the photograph.

Now, dethroned in the eyes of Verria and Galdorisi (who could not be reached for comment), McDuffie harbors ill will towards the others who'd take his spot in photographic history.

"Mendonsa is a lying son of a bitch," he said. "It's important because there are a hundred different people lying about it."

Based on age regression techniques, Gibson said that Mendonsa's height, ears and hairline don't come close to resembling the man in the picture, whereas McDuffie is a perfect fit.

Shain died in 2010 and was disqualified by some researchers who thought she was too short to be the woman in the picture. Before her death, she appeared several times at events commemorating the photo with Carl Muscarello, another man who has said he was the one caught by the lens that day.

"World War II was a popular war, not like Korea, Vietnam or Afghanistan. So when it was over, it was complete jubilation," said Muscarello, 85, who went on to be a New York City cop. He said he'd been waiting in Staten Island to be sent overseas on the USS Orion when the Japanese surrendered. He headed for Times Square with a buddy to take part in the festivities. "If you were in uniform that day and you didn't get kissed, you must have been awfully ugly," he told HuffPost.

Getting recognition seems to be less of a priority for Muscarello than others hunting for confirmation.

"All my family is up in arms. They say you ought to sue them (Verria and Galdorisi]," he said. "But what for? I never made a big deal out of it."

Definitive proof identifying the sailor and nurse may never be unearthed, said Deborah Klochko, executive director of the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego. Their faces are obscured and Times Square was filled with untold numbers of men in uniform that day, she pointed out.

"A lot of people want to have their moment in the public, but that's not what this picture is about," she told HuffPost. "What's important about this photograph is what it represents and why it still resonates today as when it appeared it in Life magazine a week after the war ended. It's the feeling of rejoicing at the end of a long war."

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