The Kiss that Wasn’t Just a Kiss: Half of a Famous Pair Identified at Last

Glenn McDuffie may just be the most famous kisser in the world. Forensic tests recently confirmed that the eighty-year-old navy veteran from Houston, Texas, is the sailor captured enthusiastically kissing a nurse in Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic photograph of the celebration in Times Square at the end of World War II.

Eisenstaedt didn’t record the names of his subjects, and ten other men claimed to be the amorous swabbie over the years. But McDuffie, who served as a navy gunner from 1943 to 1946, has been the most persistent. He has taken—and passed—several lie detector tests, eventually turning for help to Lois Gibson, a forensic expert with the Houston Police Department. After careful comparison of the photo with measurements of McDuffie’s ears, facial bones, hairline, and hands, Gibson is convinced McDuffie is the man. “Glenn McDuffie is the swabbie that kissed the nurse,” she told reporters, “I am positive it’s Glenn.”

Gibson re-created the kiss by having McDuffie pose in his old sailor uniform, cradling a pillow the way he had once cradled the nurse. She compared his face and hand measurements to the original photo—and to the bone structure of the ten other men who claimed to be the sailor. Her conclusion was decisive: “I don’t say this lightly,” she told the Houston Chronicle. “What I do is usually a matter of life or death, so I don’t mess around when I identify someone.”

McDuffie was eighteen years old in the late summer of 1945, when he traveled from his naval base in Kannapolis, North Carolina, to visit a girl in Brooklyn. He was climbing out of the subway in Times Square on August 14 when a passerby told him the Japanese had just surrendered, ending the war at last. “This lady said, ‘Sailor, I’m so happy for you’ and I said, ‘For what?’” he recalls. “She said, ‘The war’s over and you can go home.’ Well, I ran out in the street jumping and hollering. [A] lady turned around and held out her arms to me and I took her and kissed her.” It was a kiss that would come to symbolize the overwhelming relief and excitement that swept the country after four long years of war. (Nine months later, 233,000 babies were born.) “It was a good kiss,” McDuffie recently told ABC News.

Of the eleven would-be kissers, McDuffie is also the only one who says he can identify the two men in the background of the photograph. (Their names, he says, are Bob Little, from Buffalo, New York, and Jack Holmes, from Pittsburgh.) The three men shipped out together after V-J day aboard the same troopship. McDuffie has also offered an explanation for why his wrist was cocked at such an odd angle in the photograph: Apparently, he saw Eisenstaedt run up with his camera, so he struck a pose. “I was keeping my hand from blocking the view,” McDuffie told reporters. “I wanted to let him take the picture of her face.”

A woman named Edith Shain approached Life magazine, which originally published the photograph, nearly thirty years ago claiming to be the nurse in the picture. Although Shain and McDuffie haven’t met since their famous smooch, they have talked on the phone recently, and McDuffie seems confident it was Shain he held in his arms that day: “I know Edith Shain was the woman I kissed because she had the biggest mouth of anybody I’ve ever kissed in my life—it went from ear to ear. I’ll never forget it.” Kissing and telling has never been so satisfying.

Missing Submarine Discovered off Aleutian Island

Lost for more than sixty years, the USS Grunion, a fleet submarine that disappeared in the Bering Sea in 1942, may have been located ten miles off the coast of Kiska, an island in the Aleutian chain. The discovery of the submarine wreckage this summer marks the end of a five-year search by the sons of the ship’s commander, Lt. Comdr. Mannert Abele, who have been trying to determine the fate of the lost vessel. In its last communication, on July 30, 1942, the Grunion reported heavy enemy activity at Kiska Harbor, then went silent. Ever since, all seventy men aboard have been listed as “missing in action, cause unknown.”

Like most relatives of the lost crew, Abele’s three sons had long since given up hope that they would ever learn what happened to their father, when, in 2002, they came across an updated entry on the Grunion on a U.S. Navy website. The navy had discovered an article in an obscure Japanese maritime journal by the skipper of a Japanese merchant ship who described sinking an American submarine off Kiska in 1942. The captain’s recollections, which were first published in 1963, never appeared in official Japanese navy records and were only recently translated into English.

To the Abeles—and to historians—the story offered the first explanation of what may have happened to the Grunion. According to the Kano Maru’s skipper, the merchant ship, which had lost contact with its escort in heavy fog, was hit by a torpedo fired from a submarine in the early morning of July 31, stopping its main engine. Three more torpedoes, all of which failed to explode, were fired at the ship over the next twenty minutes as it drifted listlessly. (American submarines suffered from a rash of malfunctioning torpedo detonators in the first year of the war.) When the submarine began to surface—apparently to finish off the merchantman with its deck guns—the Kano Maru shot first, scoring a direct hit. Its crew watched the submarine slip beneath the waves.

With this information in hand, the Abeles hired a team to do a sonar scan of the area north of Kiska Harbor. Wreckage was located at a depth of one thousand feet, and, this summer, a remote-operated vehicle was sent to take pictures and shoot video. While no markings were found, the ship appears to be an American submarine with the same features as the Grunion. The searchers are providing the latest news on their website,

What Makes a Hero a Hero? Academic Study Looks to WWII Vets for Answers

What are heroes made of? What was it about men like Eugene Fluckey or Audie Murphy that allowed them to act so bravely under fire, while others were only able to dig in and follow orders? What personality traits, in other words, make heroic leaders so heroic?

Picking up where Homer, Shakespeare, and a long line of poets and filmmakers have left off, a group of academics from Cornell University and the Georgia Institute of Technology are trying to put their finger on what separates heroes from the rest of us. In “Profiling the Heroic Leader: Empirical Lessons from Combat-Decorated Veterans of World War II,” a paper appearing in the Leadership Quarterly in early 2008, the authors, Brian Wansink, Collin Payne, and Koert van Ittersum, asked 526 World War II combat veterans to rate themselves on a range of personality traits (“I was a strong leader”; “I was self-disciplined”). The men were also asked to report on a nine-point scale how eager they had been to join the military. All of the veterans in the survey experienced heavy and frequent combat, but 83 of them had been awarded medals for bravery, at least a Bronze Star or higher.

The soldiers who had received medals for heroism were far more likely than their counterparts to rate themselves as strong leaders, with more self-discipline and higher self-worth. They also reported being able to “work well with others” and were more adaptable to change and more adventurous.

The “eager” heroes—men who had enthusiastically enlisted in the military—said they were more willing to take risks than did other medal recipients. But “reluctant” heroes—those who had been drafted, or who expressed less eagerness to enlist—exhibited the highest levels of loyalty. “Reluctant enlistees who won medals for heroism,” the authors write, “reported a greater degree of ‘selflessness’ than any other group of veterans.”

Reenactors Take Realism Too Far

As weekend hobbyists go, World War II reenactors might appear to be on the eccentric side. Grown men pretend to be soldiers by dressing up in uniforms; they trudge around in the mud with period weapons, hollering commands at each other while simulating full-scale combat. Not surprisingly, these groups can attract characters with motives that are difficult to explain—especially when they’ve chosen to play the “bad guys.”

That is what John Sweeney, a BBC reporter, discovered this summer when he visited the War and Peace Show in Kent, an annual gathering of military memorabilia enthusiasts that also features reenactments from both world wars. While interviewing members of a British organization called the Second Battle Group, which specializes in portraying a Waffen-SS unit—and which has appeared on television and in films like Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan— Sweeney discovered some of the group’s members were far more sympathetic to the cause they were reenacting than expected.

After refusing to answer Sweeney’s questions about why they had chosen to portray an SS unit, several members of the group were caught on a hidden camera claiming to be members of the real-life “Blood and Honor” organization, a neo-Nazi group that takes its name from the motto of the Hitler Youth. More than one soldier apparently shared the racist views of the SS group they were portraying. Some used racial slurs to refer to blacks and one said he would join the Waffen-SS if it existed today.

The organizers of the show said they were saddened that an “idiot minority” had chosen to express such views at a family event. A statement on the Second Battle Group’s website says: “The SBG is acutely aware of its controversial portrayal in this hobby and is a totally non-political organization. People with paramilitary, ideological or extreme views will NOT be accepted as members.”


Originally published in the December 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here