VA Keeps Iconic WWII Kiss Photo After Controversy

VA Keeps Iconic WWII Kiss Photo After Controversy

The Department of Veterans Affairs has decided to keep the famous photo of a sailor kissing a woman in Times Square on V-J Day in 1945, after a memo from a senior official ordered its removal from all VA facilities.

The memo was sent by RimaAnn Nelson, the assistant secretary of health for operations, on Feb. 29, 2024. It stated that the photo, which depicts a “non-consensual act”, was inconsistent with the VA’s no-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment and assault.

The memo instructed employees to “promptly” remove any depictions of the photo and replace them with imagery deemed more appropriate. It also said that the photo was originally intended to celebrate the end of World War II and the return of American soldiers, but that perspectives on historical events “evolve”.

The memo was leaked online by the X account EndWokeness on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. It quickly drew criticism from veterans, lawmakers, and social media users, who accused the VA of erasing history and being politically correct.

The Reversal by the Secretary

The same day, VA Secretary Denis McDonough intervened and overruled the memo. He posted on his official X account that the photo was not banned from VA facilities and that it would remain in them.

He did not provide any explanation for the reversal or whether he was consulted on the matter before the memo was issued. He also did not comment on the status of Nelson or whether she would face any consequences for her decision.

The VA also issued a statement confirming that the photo was not banned and that it would not be removed from VA facilities.

The Photo That Captured a Moment

The photo was taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt, a Life magazine photojournalist, in New York City on Aug. 14, 1945, as Americans celebrated Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. Other journalists, including military reporters, also captured the moment.

The photo shows a U.S. sailor grabbing and kissing a woman he did not know amid a joyous, party atmosphere in Times Square. The identities of the individuals in the photo have been disputed over the years, but in 1980, Life asked former Navy quartermaster George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer Friedman to recreate the moment, believing them to be the original pair.

The photo has become a symbol of the end of the war and the relief and happiness that followed. It has also been criticized by some as a violation of the woman’s consent and a glorification of sexual assault.

The photo is widely displayed in museums, memorials, and public places, as well as in VA facilities. It is not clear how many VA facilities have the photo or whether veterans have complained about it.