A 90-year-old who says she's the woman being kissed by a sailor in Times Square in one of World War II's most famous photographs reunited in town with the Navy on Sunday — days before she is to serve as grand marshal of the city's Veterans Day parade.
Edith Shain of Los Angeles, donning a white nurse's uniform like the one she wore back in 1945, went to see the musical revival of "South Pacific" and posed for pictures, being hoisted off her feet on stage by five of the actors in their Navy whites.
On Tuesday, she'll ride in the parade at the head of a contingent of World War II veterans.
The "South Pacific" event was a touching reminder of history, but very different from Aug. 15, 1945, the day Shain recalls that she joined thousands of people whooping it up after Japan surrendered. Right there on Broadway and 45th Street, a sailor suddenly grabbed and kissed her — and the moment was caught by Alfred Eisenstaedt, a Life magazine photographer.
His picture from V-J Day became one of the 20th century's most iconic images. But Eisenstaedt didn't get the names of either party, and efforts years later by Life to identify them produced a number of claimants, says Bobbi Baker Burrows, a Life editor with deep knowledge of the subject.
About 1980, Shain recalls, she wrote a letter to Life, identifying herself as the woman in the nurse's uniform. Eisenstaedt wrote back and later visited her in California and gave her a copy of the photo. But Eisenstaedt, who died in 1995, was never sure that Shain was the woman in the photo, Burrows said.
Because of renewed interest in the subject, she recalled, "Life decided to run an article saying, `If you are the sailor or the nurse in the picture, please step forward.'"
"We received claims from a few nurses and dozens of sailors, but we could never prove that any of them were the actual people, and Eisenstaedt himself just said he didn't know," she said.
Even the fact that Shain stands only 4 feet 9 isn't helpful in analyzing the photo, in which the sailor has her in what looks more like a death grip than an embrace, with both of their faces obscured.
'Hope, love, peace'
By her own account, Shain said she could not identify the bussing boy in blue.
"I went from Doctors Hospital to Times Square that day because the war was over, and where else does a New Yorker go?" she said. "And this guy grabbed me and we kissed, and then I turned one way and he turned the other. There was no way to know who he was, but I didn't mind because he was someone who had fought for me."
At least three veterans still lay claim to being the kissing sailor, and at least one other woman has claimed to be the nurse. But Shain, who left nursing to become a kindergarten teacher in Los Angeles for 30 years, appears to hold the edge — by virtue of persistence, an effervescent charm and unabashed patriotism.
"As for the picture," she says, "it says so many things — hope, love, peace and tomorrow. The end of the war was a wonderful experience, and that photo represents all those feelings."