Skip Navigation and Jump to Page Content    The Library of Congress >> American Folklife Center  
Veterans History Project (Library of Congress) ABOUT  
SEARCH/BROWSE  
HELP  
COPYRIGHT  
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Greta Friedman [8/23/2005]

Patricia Redmond:

Veteran/Civilian: GRETA Z. FRIEDMAN Address: 314 West College Terrace, Frederick, MD Birthday: June 5, 1924 Age: 81 War interviewed for: W odd War II Date of Interview: August 23, 2005 Interviewer: Patricia T. Redmond, Member of Frederick DAR. Representing: Maryland State Daughters of the American Revolution. Mrs. Friedman is a civilian but she has a very special story to tell about an event that occurred on V-J Day, on August 14, 1945 in Time's Square, NYC. I think most people have seen the photo of the sailor kissing what was identified as a nurse. "The Kissing Sailor". The names of these individuals were not identified by the LIFE Magazine photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt when it appeared in LIFE Magazine. Everyone has questioned who these two people were. I think we can tell you today who the lady was.

Greta Friedman:

I was working in a dental office on Lexington Ave. for two brothers, JD and JL Burke. All morning long people would come in a say there seems to be rumors that the was ending. Since I wasn't very far from Time's Square, I could just walk over there and see for myself. After my bosses came back at 1 :00 from their lunch hour, I went I, straight to Time's Square where I saw, on the lighted bill board that goes around the building. .. 'V-J Day, V-J Day!' That really confirmed what the people had said in the office. Suddenly, I was grabbed by a sailor. It wasn't that much of a kiss. It was more of a jubilant act that he didn't have to go back. I found out later he was so happy that he didn't have to go back to the Pacific where they had already been through the war. The reason he grabbed somebody dressed like a nurse, that he felt so very grateful to the nurses who took care of the wounded. I had to go back to the office, and I told my bosses what I had seen. They said to cancel all the appointments, we're closing the office. They left, and so I cancelled all the appointments and went home." She was just 21 at the time.

Patricia Redmond:

Asked who the sailor was who kissed her?

Greta Friedman:

I did not have a clue because he did not give his name or anything. I didn't see the picture until the 1960' s when I looked at a book called the Eyes of Eisenstaedt. I immediately wrote to LIFE and they said that they would send me a picture, but the person has been identified. I didn't believe that because I knew it happened to me. It's exactly my figure,. and what I wore, and my hair-do especially. I sent them some photographs. Time went by, and in 1980 LIFE Magazine contacted me and I brought the picture, and Mr. Eisenstaedt signed it and he apologized. Mrs. Friedman confirmed that Mr. Eisenstaedt had called the picture simply "V-J Day" and he didn't identify her.

Patricia Redmond:

Asked if she knew her picture was being taken at the time?

Greta Friedman:

No, I had no idea. I did not observe anybody taking pictures. I was anxious to get back to work.

Patricia Redmond:

What happened in 1980?

Greta Friedman:

In 1980 they called both George and me, because I had not met George Mendonsa until that time.

Patricia Redmond:

This is George Mendonsa, who lives in Rhode Island. Mr. Mendonsa actually was a sailor, but Mrs. Friedman was not a nurse.

Greta Friedman:

I was a dental assistant. I had a white dress because we dressed the same way. In some ways, we did what nurses do, in other words, help the patient, make them more comfortable, and often they would do extractions, so it was surgery.

Patricia Redmond:

You were not in the military?

Greta Friedman:

I was not, I was a civilian. That was my job. We dressed like nurse, white stockings, white shoes, white dress, and a white cap, which we took off during lunch hour when we went out for lunch. Questions about the "kissing sailor".

Patricia Redmond:

When he grabbed you and gave you a kiss, what did you feel like?

Greta Friedman:

I felt that he was very strong. He was just holding me tight. I'm not sure about the kiss... it was just somebody celebrating. It wasn't a romantic event. It was just an event of 'thank god the war is over' . . . it was right in front of the sign.

Patricia Redmond:

Did he say anything to you when he kissed you? Greata Friedman:: No, it was an act of silence.

Patricia Redmond:

He just grabbed you, gave you a kiss and was gone.

Greta Friedman:

Yes, we both left and went our own way. I found out later, that he and his fiancee... they were probably engaged at the time... ..they came from Radio City Music Hall; they had also heard the war was over so they just left the show and went to Time's Square because if you needed to know the latest news. There it was. . . in Time's Square.

Patricia Redmond:

At lot of people have made claim to this, at least three women and twenty men who have said they were the couple that kissed. . . that they were the kissing sailor and the nurse on Times Square V-J Day. Do you have any comments?

Greta Friedman:

They were not. I am going to show you exactly how we looked at the time. She was looking at an issue of LIFE Magazine, dated October, 1980. The article reads. . . . "Who's the Kissing Sailor?"

Greta Friedman:

This has been a mystery for many years... Not to us! She pointed out from photos of the three women who claim to be nurse. On page 72, of the magazine it states... "Fair maids from afar claim they were kissed." Also pictured in this issue are photos of the men who claim to be the sailor. Looking at the pictures of the "nurse", because that is what everyone has been calling her all these years...

Greta Friedman:

You see how my hair is braided on top. You can tell that it is swept up with a comb in the back. Her hair is much longer. We are looking at pictures of Edith Shain and Barbara Sokol, the other two ladies who are claiming to be the one kissed.

Patricia Redmond:

Do you think George Mendonsa went around kissing all the ladies?

Greta Friedman:

No, but other sailors did! They were happy, they didn't have to go back to war. They'd had enough! We established that many ladies were kissed by sailors that day... in celebration. These other ladies, and sailors may all have been in Time's Square on V-J Day, and kissed...but the photo that Albert Eisenstaedt took was of Greta Friedman and George Mendonsa. Looked again at the LIFE magazine with the photos of the various men who claimed to be the sailor...maybe all these people were at Times Square...kissing pretty ladies?

Greta Friedman:

Oh sure...all throughout the day and the evening, people were there. It was like New Year's Eve only better!

Patricia Redmond:

What did you do the rest of the day, when you were off and celebrating?...

Greta Friedman:

I went home!

Patricia Redmond:

Did you think about "the kiss"...

Greta Friedman:

Not until years later when I saw the picture. I said 'Wait a minute... that's me!

Patricia Redmond:

And then you recalled the incident?

Greta Friedman:

Yes, it's something that you don't forget. Especially if you see it photographed!

Patricia Redmond:

How did you find out it was George Mendonsa that kissed you?

Greta Friedman:

Well, when we met on Time's Square. in 1980.

Patricia Redmond:

Who invited you two to Time's Square?

Greta Friedman:

LIFE Magazine. And we sort of just didn't want to reenact the kiss. First of all, his wife was there. (Mr. Mendonsa's wife)

Patricia Redmond:

But she was there the first time?

Greta Friedman:

But I didn't know that then. It wasn't my choice to be kissed... (in 1945). The guy just came over and grabbed! (in 1980 for the reenactment of the kiss) I told him I didn't want to redo that pose! We have the picture here, and it is kind of a reenactment of the pose and the sign on Time's Square says, 'It had to be you!'

Patricia Redmond:

Well, that makes it pretty official, doesn't it?

Greta Friedman:

I would guess.

Patricia Redmond:

The photo taken in 1980 who was the photographer?

Greta Friedman:

Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Patricia Redmond:

So Alfred Eisenstaedt has said that you two were indeed the kissing couple?

Greta Friedman:

I don't know if he really had such a great view of our faces. I think he was attracted more by the pose. It was a black and white shot, and as a photographer, he just knew that he had a good picture. It was an opportunity and that's the job of a good photographer...to recognize a good opportunity.

Patricia Redmond:

In the Frederick newspaper article, that told about the photograph and I quote: "It was an enduring symbol of the joy and relief felt by a nation at the end of the war."

Greta Friedman:

Right. Everyone was very happy; people on the street were friendly and smiled at each other. It was a day that everyone celebrated, because everybody had somebody in the war, and they were coming home. The women were happy, their boyfriends and husbands would come home. It was a wonderful gift finally, to end this war. It was a long war, and it cost a lot.

Patricia Redmond:

I'm sure that everyone will be curious about you, and will you just tell us a bit about your life and how you grew up and how you became a dental assistant?

Greta Friedman:

I was born in Austria and came here at the age of 15. I went to the Central ?? Trade School. Right after graduation, I met a young girl who was a dental assistant and thought it might be interesting. So I got a little bit sidetracked for a few years, doing dental assistant. During the summers I was working in summer theatre. I then took courses at Fashion Institute (FIT) in New York and then I altogether quite dental assistant. I went into summer experience and I worked for the toy industry designing dolls clothes for a number of years. Then I again worked in summer theatre and met my husband there. I left New York in 1956 and moved to Frederick (MD). I lived in Frederick and I thought that I could catch up on my education. I started Hood College, and then my children were born. I took it very slowly, and did a lot of auditing. Finally, when my kids were ready for college, I got serious and went full time. I finished in 1981... the same year that both of my children graduated from college.

Patricia Redmond:

You had two children, a boy and a girl. You graduated the same time they did... but from three different colleges. I bet they are proud of their mother.

Greta Friedman:

I hope so!

Patricia Redmond:

You were an art major?

Greta Friedman:

I do art work all the time. Right now she is working in water colors.

Greta Friedman:

I forgot to mention, for the last ten or eleven years, I've worked as a book restorer at Hood College... .restoring and binding books.

Patricia Redmond:

How does it feel to be so famous?

Greta Friedman:

It's kind of fun, because it's very accidental. Fame for just being there...being dressed right. Actually, the fame belongs to the photographer. He provided an art... I can't call it a skill. He was an artist. I just happened to be there... .and so did George.

Patricia Redmond:

Are you and George are still in touch?

Greta Friedman:

Once in awhile. We send Christmas cards and he has a very lovely wife and I have talked to her. Were not friends to see each other, but through this happening we have something in common.

Patricia Redmond:

I am going to interview George Mendonsa next week and hear his side of this story. Do you have any words for him?

Greta Friedman:

Well, I think he was the one who made me famous, because he took the action. I was just the bystander. So, I think he deserves a lot of credit. Actually, by the photographer creating something that was very symbolic at the end of a bad period...it was a wonderful coincidence a man in a sailor's uniform and a woman in a white dress... and a great photographer at the right time.

Patricia Redmond:

Thank you for this interesting interview.

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us