His daughter, Sharon Molleur, told the Providence Journal her father fell and had a seizure early on Sunday at the assisted living facility in Middletown, Rhode Island, where he lived with his wife of 70 years. He died two days before his 96th birthday.
Mendonsa was a uniformed sailor in the US navy when he was photographed kissing a woman in a nurse’s uniform on 14 August 1945, the day Japan surrendered.
The photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt was published in Life magazine and became one of the most famous images of the 20th century.
The kissing couple were perfect strangers. The woman was Greta Friedman, a dental assistant wearing a nurse’s uniform. “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and kissed or grabbed,” she told an interviewer with the Veterans History Project in 2005.
“It was the moment,” Mendonsa told CBS News in 2012. “You come back from the Pacific and finally, the war ends.
“The excitement of the war being over, plus I had a few drinks. So when I saw the nurse, I grabbed her and I kissed her.”
Friedman died in 2016, at the age of 92.
The Rhode Island man long maintained that he was the sailor in the photo, called V-J Day in Times Square, but other sailors also claimed to be pictured. Facial recognition technology ultimately confirmed the pair’s identities.
Mendonsa was on leave and had been on a date with another woman when he heard the war was over. His date, Rita Petrie, is seen in the background of the photo. She said she didn’t mind that he locked lips with another woman amid the celebration. In fact, she became his wife of seven decades.
“Either I was dopey or something, but it didn’t bother me!” she told CBS, adding that he would sometimes repeat the performance. “It’ll come up that he’s ‘The Kissing Sailor’. So the kissing sailor has to think he has to kiss everybody. So he does!”
Mendonsa, a fisherman whose father had also been a fisherman, piloted a destroyer in the war. Lawrence Verria, a Rhode Island history teacher who with George Galdorisi co-wrote the book The Kissing Sailor, told the Providence Journal: “He really was bigger than life.”
Mendonsa is survived by his wife, his daughter and a son.
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