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Vet Who Says He Was 'Kissing Sailor' in Famous Photo Dies

Glenn McDuffie's claim that he was the man in the World War II picture was backed up by a police forensic artist.
A display shows the iconic photograph \"VJ Day a Times Square, New York, NY, 1945\" by Alfred Eisenstaedt
A display shows the iconic photograph "VJ Day a Times Square, New York, NY, 1945" by Alfred Eisenstaedt during an exhibition in Rome, April 30, 2013. Alfred Eisenstaedt / TIME & LIFE PICTURES/ GETTY IMAGES

A Navy veteran who claimed to be the sailor who was kissing a nurse in the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo taken in Times Square on V-J day has died.

Glenn McDuffie's daughter said he died Sunday of natural causes. He was 86.

McDuffie's claim that he was the man in the iconic World War II picture was backed up by a police forensic artist who said she matched his facial structure.

"He ate it up!" said his daughter, Glenda McDuffie Bell. "He loved the attention."

Life magazine, which published the picture, has never verified the identity of the sailor and nurse, and a number of other men and women have claimed to be the strangers who celebrated Japan's surrender with a spontaneous clinch.

One of them, George Mendonsa, of Rhode Island, even sued Life. A team of volunteers from the Naval War College used 3-D face scanning technology to conclude he was the real deal.

McDuffie's daughter said her father only came forward after others — falsely, he contended — put themselves forth as the mystery seaman.

His story was that he was changing trains in New York when he learned the war was over and that his brother would be coming home from a Japanese prison camp.

“I was so happy. I ran out in the street,” McDuffie told the Associated Press years later.

“And then I saw that nurse,” he said. “She saw me hollering and with a big smile on my face ... I just went right to her and kissed her.

“We never spoke a word,” he said. “Afterward, I just went on the subway across the street and went to Brooklyn.”

McDuffie — who spent three years in the Navy as a gunner and later played semi-pro baseball and worked for the Postal Service — also turned to experts to boost his claim.

The thrice-married retiree was living in Texas and battling lung cancer when Houston Police artist Lois Gibson concluded he was the sailor in the photo in 2007.

He said at the time that it was important to tell his story before he died.

"It certainly got him the recognition that he deserved, and he was able to out to all kinds of events and speak about it and tell how it happened," his daughter said.

"When he realized how many people were touched by the photo, it humbled him."

Because Eisenstaedt, who died in 1995, didn’t identify the subjects of the photo, Life Books editorial director Robert Sullivan said the identities will officially remain a mystery.

“The recent (claims) are ’CSI’ type of inquiries. We think that’s great but we just can’t know for sure on our end. We can’t be in a position of anointing one or the other without hard proof,” he said.

Other men have purported to be the sailor in the picture, including a retired New York police detective and a Rhode Island fisherman. Several women have claimed to be the nurse.

Image: Glenn McDuffie
Glenn McDuffie holds a portrait of himself as a young man, left, and a copy of Alfred Eisenstaedt's iconic Life magazine shot of a sailor embracing a nurse in a white uniform, right, at his Houston home Tuesday, July 31, 2007. McDuffie says he is the sailor in the famous photograph and that claim is now backed up by the Houston Police Department's forensic artist.PAT SULLIVAN / AP