When Edith “Edie” Shain kissed a stranger 65 years ago, she became a part of history.
The New York native was working as a nurse at the now-demolished Doctors Hospital in Manhattan on August 14, 1945, when President Harry S. Truman announced that the war with Japan had ended. To celebrate, Shain headed to Times Square, where she encountered an equally-joyous American seaman wearing a dark-blue uniform. Just as she emerged from the subway, the sailor pulled Shain into his arms and kissed her. That kiss was captured by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, who published the image in Life Magazine. It eventually became the most reproduced picture in the history of the publication.
For decades, Eisenstaedt didn’t know the identity of the couple immortalized in his iconic V-J Day photograph; the couple apparently parted ways and disappeared into the cheering crowd right after the kiss ended. But in the late 1970s, Shain wrote to Eisenstaedt and claimed to be the nurse in the picture.
Shain’s letter gave the editors of Life Magazine the idea to write a followup article. That story, which appeared in the Aug. 1980 issue, urged the kissing sailor to come forward. Two months later, the editors noted that 11 men and three women had claimed to be the subjects of the photograph. Although Shain is generally considered to have the best claim — Eisenstaedt agreed that she was the woman in the picture after meeting her in California — the identity of the sailor remains a mystery.
“Someone grabbed me and kissed me, and I let him because he fought for his country,” Shain once said. “I closed my eyes when I kissed him. I never saw him.”
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of V-J Day, artist J. Seward Johnson II designed a 25-foot, 6,000 pound replica of the kiss that he called “Unconditional Surrender.” A life-size aluminum statue of the famous embrace also stands in Times Square, and each year couples gather near it and reenact the amorous moment of jubilation.
After the war ended, Shain earned an education degree from New York University. She moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950s and spent the next three decades teaching kindergarten and first grade and raising a family. To make ends meet, she moonlighted as a nurse at an area hospital.
Once Shain went public about appearing in the Life magazine photo, veterans groups around the nation invited her to take part in commemorative events. In 2008, she even served as the grand marshal in New York City’s Veterans Day parade.
Shain died on June 20 of liver cancer. She was 91.
(Photo by Troy Li. Used with permission.)