The veteran died early Sunday in Newport, Rhode Island, just two days before his 96th birthday, daughter Sharon Molleur told CNN. He will be buried at St. Columba Cemetery in his hometown of Middletown, Rhode Island, she said.
“When I look at that photograph, I just think of my dad’s service, and how happy he was that it was all over,” Molleur said.
“And when I get through showing you the photos … if you don’t admit that, I’d say you’re a phony bastard,” he told a reporter who visited his Middletown home.
‘We’re all drinking and raising hell’
It was taken August 14, 1945, shortly after news of Japan’s surrender — aka Victory Over Japan Day or V-J Day — spread through New York’s streets, a prelude to World War II’s imminent end. Even the caption Life placed under the photo, known alternatively as “V-J Day in Times Square,” speaks to the sexism tolerated in newsrooms during the era.
Mendonsa was on leave after a stint in the Pacific, he told CNN in 2015, and was on a first date with Rita Petry, who was related to his younger sister’s new husband.
While taking in a matinee, a crowd outside Radio City Music Hall began pounding on the theater doors, shouting, “The war is over!” — a cry that resonated through the building.
Mendonsa and Petry walked outside to find thousands of revelers in the streets. They stopped at a bar.
“The booze was flying, and I popped quite a few,” he recalled. “We’re all drinking and raising hell.”
After leaving the bar, they found themselves in Times Square.
“So we get into Times Square and the war ends and I see the nurse,” he remembers. “I had a few drinks, and it was just plain instinct, I guess. I just grabbed her.”
It was actually a dental assistant. As Petry, with whom he would spend more than 70 years in marriage, looked on, Mendonsa planted one on the woman in white.
“I was in the background, grinning like a mutt,” Petry told CNN in a 2005 interview. “It didn’t matter to me.”
‘It wasn’t that much of a kiss’
It’s a sentiment his daughter recalls hearing from her father.
“They ran out of the theater and began celebrating. Everyone was kissing everyone,” Molleur said Monday. “He was so thankful for all the nurses that had helped all the wounded soldiers.”
“Suddenly, I was grabbed by a sailor,” she recalled. “It wasn’t that much of a kiss. It was more of a jubilant act that he didn’t have to go back.”
The sailor was “very strong,” she told the Veterans History Project. The smooch wasn’t romantic, she said. It was more that the war was over, she said, and people were so thankful.
“He was just holding me tight. I’m not sure about the kiss,” she said. “It was just somebody celebrating.”
Friedman passed away in 2016 in Richmond, Virginia. She was 92. Gone, too, is Eisenstaedt, the photographer, who died in 1995 at age 96.
CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Aaron Cooper and Amanda Jackson contributed to this report.