The man in the iconic photo of an exuberant Navy sailor kissing a woman in New York City’s Times Square at the end of World War II has died.
George Mendonsa, 95, had a seizure and fell in an assisted living facility in Middletown, Rhode Island, Mendonsa’s daughter, Sharon Molleur, told the Providence Journal. He lived there with his wife of 70 years, Rita, and he died Sunday just two days short of his 96th birthday.
The photo was taken on Aug. 14, 1945, which is known as V-J Day, the day Japan officially surrendered to the United States in World War II. Published in Life as “V-J Day in Times Square,” it came to represent how joyful Americans and people across the world felt at the end of the war, in which 406,000 American veterans died and 671,000 were wounded, according to the United States Census Bureau.
More: Woman in iconic WWII Times Square kissing photo dies
When photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt snapped the picture in 1945, he did not document any information about the photo’s subjects, and their identities were a mystery for years. Even today, people have used everything from 3-D face scanning to the position of the sun in the photo to try to determine exactly whom the couple was.
Mendonsa is pictured kissing Greta Zimmer Friedman, who was a dental assistant at the time. Apparently, Mendonsa kissed the woman mistakenly thinking she was a nurse in the war because of her uniform. She came to represent the 342,000 women who served in the war as pilots, nurses and more, according to the Census Bureau.
Friedman reached out to Life in the 1960s after seeing the photo in a book of Eisenstaedt’s photography to notify the magazine that it was her in the picture. The magazine told her it was another woman until 1980 when they contacted her and she met with Eisenstaedt, according to an interview with the Library of Congress.
Mendonsa’s claims were verified by a 2012 book titled “The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo that Ended World War II,” although some are still skeptical.
Friedman died in 2016 at 92 years old after a struggle with pneumonia. She was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with her late husband.
Contributing: Associated Press