It is a defining image of the American century, one that expressed the joy of a nation at its moment of greatest triumph: On the day the Japanese surrender was announced, a sailor grabbed a nurse in the middle of Times Square, bent her back and kissed her. That kiss on V-J Day was captured in at least two photographs. And for decades since, there have been debates: Who was the sailor? Who was the nurse?
Another nurse, Gloria Delaney, was out that evening. Her face appears, way off to the side in the less famous of the two photos, nearly out of the frame, watching the kissers, transfixed. The woman, now Gloria Bullard, is vivacious and lucid at 84 and living in South Carolina. She still treasures her tiny spot in history.
For decades, the world has believed that the photographs were taken after — perhaps just seconds after — President Harry S. Truman's announcement at 7:03 p.m. But in Bullard's recollection, the kiss occurred hours earlier — before the war was officially over. That amorous sailor may have jumped the gun.
On Aug. 14, 1945, a nation hoping for Japan's surrender after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9 was expecting word at any moment. The streets were filled with people, milling, anticipating, already celebrating.
Delaney was out with a friend, Margery Keech, and through a gap in the crowd she saw a sailor had seized a nurse. "I just saw him grabbing her and then bending over and he kissed her." The kiss went on. "I said, 'Marge, Marge, come here, look at this.' But she had already gone ahead. I just stopped and looked."
The clinch continued. "She wasn't really struggling," Bullard said. "It looked to me like she was trying to keep her skirt down. I got the impression she was enjoying it. Maybe that was because I was enjoying all the excitement, so I figured she was too."
One person who could have added details to Bullard's version of events, Edith Shain, died in June at age 91. She long said she was the nurse being kissed.