Robert A. Kasprzak Major, USAF (Retired)
Time is eternal yet fleeting. It has a tendency to soften memories while maintaining a reluctance to acknowledge that, as we grow older, memories tend to fade and blossom into what we imagined things were like in the past. The older I get the better my stories become! Trying to reconcile past experiences with current memories is often a frustrating and confusing endeavor.
A case in point is the famous photograph taken by Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt on Tuesday, August 14, 1945. You’ll recall the iconic image of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square after victory was declared in World War II. Several sailors and nurses claimed to be in that photograph. I have no doubt their memories justify their perspectives but, unfortunately, we’ll never actually know who is really in the photograph. Nevertheless, I’ll share what I believe to be the most accurate account of that famous kiss.
At 7:00 o’clock PM on August 14th, President Truman announced via a radio address that the war with Japan was over. Almost immediately, spontaneous celebrations erupted across the country...especially in New York City’s Times Square. On hand were numerous photographers including Mr. Eisenstaedt. According to Life magazine, he took four photos of a sailor kissing a nurse and found the one ultimately published in Life to have the best “composition”. Unfortunately, he never obtained the names of either the sailor or the nurse. As a result, numerous theories, studies, and candidates have emerged. This is where my story begins.
In the August 14, 1995 issue of the Dayton Daily News, there was an article commemorating the 50th anniversary of the famous kiss. The article noted the nurse was a woman named Edith Shain and she identified the sailor as a retired New York City police detective named Carl Muscarello. Edith claimed he was the only sailor who accurately described the kiss. Additionally, Edith was interviewed by Mr. Eisenstaedt in 1980 (contents of the encounter are in the August 1980 issue of Life magazine) who acknowledged she was the woman in the photograph. I subsequently spoke with Mr. Muscarello and received a wonderful letter from Ms. Shain. I also received their autographs on a copy of Life. Finally, both Edith and Carl were in Times Square to help dedicate a statue of the famous kiss in 2005. They would not be there if they were not in the original photograph. Based on this data, I believe Edith and Carl are the ones in the photograph.
HOWEVER. Other sailors and nurses also claimed that distinction so it will be impossible to prove who is correct. As I originally indicated, memories tend to blur the past. In fact, before she died, Edith did not recall with certainty that Carl was the sailor. Nevertheless, the fact she knew it was Carl some twenty years earlier (when her memory was clearer) indicate to me Mr. Muscarello was the sailor.
The bottom line is we will never know the true identities of the couple. We should recognize the influence of time passages and perhaps accept the evidence closest to the period when the event occurred. Although not a perfect solution, the true story is ultimately lost to time and history.