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Greta Zimmer Friedman of Frederick, Md., became part of history in iconic VJ-Day photo

10:36 PM, May 28, 2012   |    comments
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FREDERICK, Md. (WUSA) --- Greta Zimmer Friedman has lived quietly here for decades, her neighbors for years unaware she is an important part of one of the most famous photographs of the 20th Century.

It was taken by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt in Times Square on VJ-Day in 1945, as Americans first learned Japan had been defeated and showed Friedman, dressed in her dental assistant's uniform, her back bent, in the clutches of a sailor who was planting a kiss on her lips.

That image became a cover photo within days on Life Magazine and has endured for nearly nearly 67 years as an iconic reminder of the celebrations on that history-making day.

"I did not see him approach. He just grabbed," Friedman told 9News Now.

Friedman was working several blocks away when dental patients came to her office with rumors that Japan was about to surrender.

Her lunch break began at one o'clock and she knew where she wanted to go.

"I thought, well, the best place to go to find out what it is, is Times Square, because of the building and the lighted sign ( which flashed news on the building's exterior ) and when I got there I saw "VJ" and I don't remember if there were other words along with it, and I didn't stay too long because I had to go back," she said.

As she began that return trip to the office, she was grabbed by a sailor who, as did so many other men in uniform that day, planted a kiss on a total stranger.

"Did you kiss him back?" asked 9News Now.

After a brief pause, a small smile on her face, she responded," I don't think so. I don't think I had a chance. His grip was very strong. He had very big hands."

Was she happy to oblige?

"I'm not sure about that. I mean, someone much bigger than you, and much stronger, where you've lost control of yourself, I'm not sure that makes you happy," she said.

But that is not to say it made her unhappy.

"He didn't do any harm," she said.

Over time, different men and women who had similar experiences in Times Square that day, have come forward to claim they are the kissers. A new book published this year concludes the kissers are Friedman and George Mendonsa, who now lives in Rhode Island.

The two have kept in touch in recent years and have appeared together at some public functions.

Friedman calls Mendonsa a pleasant man, and says she likes Mendonsa's wife, Rita, who was there that day and witnessed the kiss.

Mendonsa told Friedman he grabbed her because of her dental assistant's uniform. He thought she was a nurse, and had grown fond of nurses after they cared for him on a ship following a war injury.

Friedman knows that when millions of Americans remember the end of the war with Japan, they flash on that image of her.

"I got a big kick out of it but, on the other hand, it just says that people are sick of war," she said.

Few know what happened to her later in the day. Tired of the rush and crush in Times Square, she decided against returning there after her workday was done. Instead, she jumped on the subway, going in a different direction.

"So, I just went home and as I got out of the subway there was a nice-looking sailor coming towards me and he kissed me on the cheek." No photographer recorded that.

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