Aug. 14, 2010, marks the 65th year since President Harry Truman declared the unconditional surrender of Japan on America’s airwaves. The announcement was expected momentarily and every household had their radio on, waiting for the President’s strong, affirmative words. In those pre-TV, pre-computer days of the ’40s, the newspaper, the magazine and the radio were the three ordinary ways to communicate news to the public.
When Truman said those words, our country went wild with feelings of celebration and relief that the long, hard-fought WWII was over. All that was left was the final signing of Japan’s surrender scheduled for early September. Tears welled up in mothers’ eyes thinking of how many American lives were lost, while realizing that their own young sons and daughters did not have to go to war. No longer did one have to learn the unpronounceable names of South Pacific island battlegrounds. Servicemen could return to their towns and farms and simply live their lives again. It was a time for all Americans to rejoice!
In New York City on Aug. 14, 1945, riotous crowds jammed Times Square to cheer and shout, accompanied by the sound of ringing bells, honking horns and howling whistles. It was big-city-hot, yet mobs of people rushed up the subway stairs, exiting from the dark underground onto the packed, steaming, sidewalk to join others in the spontaneous revelry of the moment.
Professional photographers grabbed their cameras and ran out onto the street to capture the jubilation for posterity in pictorial black and white format. They needed to seize the exhilarating spirit of America on film while the action was happening right in front of them on our nation’s biggest street corner, Broadway and Times Square. A cluster of U.S. Navy laughing sailors gathered, and taking advantage of the moment, grabbed uniformed, nurses standing nearby, hugging and kissing them, while onlookers whistled and cheered them on.
One lone sailor kissing one pretty nurse out of the crowd around him was captured on film by many photographers that day. One cameraman was Alfred Eisenstaedt, a professional photographer who sold his copyrighted picture titled, “V-J Day in Times Square,” to Life magazine for its Aug. 27 cover.
Another was Victor Jorgensen, a Navy photographer, who was on duty at the time. The picture Jorgensen took of a sailor kissing a nurse he titled, “Kissing the War Goodbye.” It made the front page of the New York Times the next day. Jorgensen was on duty so his photo is in the public domain and can be copied. There is an ongoing controversy over which picture was used as a basis for J. Seward Johnson’s 25-feet high, 6,000-pound sculpture.
J. Seward Johnson, an 80-year-old, world-renowned artist and grandson of the founder of Johnson and Johnson, has been sculpting for over 30 years. His kissing couple is part of the art collection honoring WWII veterans, whom Tom Brokaw named, “The Greatest Generation.” Couples gather near it, trying to copy the kiss for their own cameras; others want to see it up close and have their picture taken next to it to demonstrate its height.
Johnson’s huge statue of a sailor kissing a nurse is located in the park next to the Bob Hope Exhibit in San Diego, adjacent to the U.S.S. Midway aircraft carrier. (The Bob Hope art exhibit was purchased for $1.5 million by the Hope Family, the Port of San Diego and WWII Navy Vets who fought in the Battle of Leyte Gulf and is a permanent part of San Diego’s outstanding tourist attractions).
Another kissing couple statue was purchased from Johnson for Sarasota, Fla., by Navy veteran Jack Curran, 89. According to a June 17, 2010, Sarasota, Fla., newspaper, Jack and his wife, Margaret, liked to sit at the waterfront near the loaned statue they loved. When she died two years ago, he wanted it to be his gift to the city, while honoring her memory. Curran paid $500,000, with the stipulation it would remain for 10 years at that prominent location. Many feel it honors WWII veterans while celebrating the end of the war; others do not like Johnson’s realistic approach to art.
The pictures for this article were taken in San Diego in September 2009. If you visit either San Diego, Calif., or Sarasota, Fla., put seeing this fantastic, lifelike sculpture on your “To Do” list. The size, the detail, and the artist’s skills will amaze you, so don’t forget your camera!