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The Story Behind the Iconic WWII Kissing Photo

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The woman photographed in the iconic picture of a World War II sailor kissing a nurse died Thursday at the age of 92.

Greta Zimmer Friedman, identified later as the nurse in the photo, became the subject of perhaps the most iconic photo taken on V-J Day on Aug. 14, 1945. Taken by photographer Alfred Eisentaedt, the picture captured the jubilance people felt upon the war’s end.

The photo, published in LIFE, caught the U.S. at a moment of pure relief and represented people letting go of their inhibitions. An examination of that day in 1945 reveals how people celebrated:

Booze flowed; inhibitions were cast off; there were probably as many fists thrown as kisses planted: in other words, once the inconceivable had actually been confirmed and it was clear that the century’s deadliest, most devastating war was finally over, Americans who for years had become accustomed to almost ceaseless news of death and loss were not quite ready for a somber, restrained reaction to the surrender. That response would come, of course. In time, there would be a more considered, reflective take on the war and on the enemies America had fought so brutally, and at such cost, for so long.

As the photo drew fame over the 20th century, rumors swirled over the identities of the kissers. Many people also view the photo as depicting sexual assault, and not something to be celebrated.

Friedman was a 21-year-old dental assistant, out in Times Square when news of the war’s end broke. George Mendonsa, who in 2015 confirmed he was the man in the photo, saw Friedman for the first time, spun her around and kissed her.

“It wasn’t that much of a kiss,” Friedman, who came forward as the woman in the photo years later, said in a 2005 interview with the Veterans History Project. “It was just somebody celebrating. It wasn’t a romantic event.”

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Write to Mahita Gajanan at mahita.gajanan@time.com