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WWII Nurse in Iconic Photo Dies at 91

Emma Brown

Edith Shain, 91, a retired kindergarten teacher who is widely believed to be the uniformed nurse whose lip-locking embrace with a Navy sailor on V-J Day in August 1945 was captured in a photograph that became one of the most iconic images of the World War II era, died June 20 in Los Angeles, her family announced.eisenstaedt.jpg

Ms. Shain was working as a nurse at Doctors Hospital in New York on August 14, 1945, the day Japanese troops surrendered, ending World War II. She and thousands of other jubilant New Yorkers flooded Times Square, where a young sailor in Navy blues made his way through the crowd kissing every woman he could find.

"Someone grabbed me and kissed me, and I let him because he fought for his country," Ms. Shain later said. "I closed my eyes when I kissed him. I never saw him."

The moment was captured on film by famed photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt, once described in the New York Times as "a master of the little detail, the homely trifle, that tells a big story." Eisenstaedt's picture appeared in on the cover of Life magazine later that month.

A symbol of the relief, euphoria and optimism that Americans felt at the end of a long, horrible war, the kiss became one of Life's best-known and most-reproduced images, appearing on greeting cards and dorm-room walls galore.

(The photo above is also by Eisenstaedt, but it's taken from a slightly different angle than the one that appeared on the Life cover.)

Ms. Shain kept her identity a secret for dozens of years. "I was embarrassed," she told NYU's alumni magazine. "I didn't want people to know that a stranger had kissed me." She moved to Los Angeles and worked as a kindergarten teacher for three decades.

Her embarrassment shrank as the years wore on. When Life magazine ran an article asking for information about the kissing couple, she wrote to the editors to say she was the nurse. She took part in numerous commemorations of the war and in 2008 served as the grand marshall of New York City's Veterans Day parade.

Dozens of men claimed to be the bussing sailor, and Ms. Shain is not the only woman who claimed to be the nurse, whose face is obscured in the photograph. According to new reports, Life magazine never determined the kissers' identities, but Alfred Eisenstaedt, who died in 1995, was certain enough that he gave her a framed print of the kiss at Times Sqare after flying to her California home to see if she was really the nurse.

"He looked at my legs," Ms. Shain said in 2005, "and said I was the one."

This post has been updated.
The photo that orginally accompanied this post was not by Eisenstaedt, as reported, but by a Navy photographer named Victor Jorgensen. The photo above is by Eisenstaedt, copyright Life.

By Emma Brown  |  June 23, 2010; 11:41 AM ET
Categories:  Emma Brown , World War II  | Tags: edith shain, kiss at times square nurse died, kiss at times square nurse eisenstadt, world war II nurse kiss died  
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How sad, that the death of Edith Shain in some way symbolizes one of our few remaining icons that linked us back to another consciousness to our current ‘no end in sight’ war. One can only wonder whether our nation could ever live the same rapture it once lived and experienced once the Japaneses were defeated. It was a moment it seems so long long ago. If only Edith could have stayed with us a little longer…A kiss back to you Mrs Shain, farewell.

Posted by: petewestwood | June 23, 2010 8:46 PM | Report abuse

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