Edith Shain didn’t remember what the young, eager sailor who kissed her in Times Square on VJ Day looked like, but she did fondly recount the experience of that day. Alfred Eisenstaedt captured the moment of the kiss in a photo that Shain said, “[...] says so many things: hope, love, peace and tomorrow. The end of the war was a wonderful experience, and that photo represents all those feelings." When designing a stamp to commemorate VJ Day, Eisenstaedt’s photo won the honor of being featured, as everyone agreed that it depicts the celebratory nature of the end of World War II.
Sadly, Edith Shain passed away on June 20th of cancer at the age of 91. Shain was in New York on August 14, 1945 because she was working as a nurse at Doctors Hospital. She and a friend headed to Times Square to participate in the celebrations upon hearing the news of the surrender of Japan. Little did she know that a sailor would grab her in the now infamous embrace. Shain later headed for Los Angeles, where she initially worked as a nurse before switching to teaching. She did not admit to being the nurse in Eisenstaedt’s iconic picture until 1980, because she felt ashamed for letting a stranger kiss her. While many nurses and sailors came forward at different times to lay claim to the photo, Eisenstaedt seems to have believed that Shain was indeed the woman whom he failed to identify after snapping the shot. Shain said of her meeting with the photographer, "He looked at my legs and said I was the one.”
Regardless of the identities of the people in the photo, it remains an image that portrays the essence of relief in America over the surrender of Japan and the end of the war. After agreeing that no other picture could be used on a VJ Day commemoration stamp, designers began the process of trying to figure out how a vertical image could be used on a horizontal stamp. The photograph is successful mostly because it shows the full-length couple with amused onlookers in the background. However, trying to keep the nurse and sailor in full on the stamp made them too small. The design team settled on making the image on the stamp a close-up of the kiss, thereby picturing the two just below the waist and up. The original design proved too close, with Eisenstaedt objecting that his photo “looked too violent, too aggressive.” By making the image less tight and loosening the sailor’s hold, the designers produced a final product truer to the original photograph.
Edith Shain has passed away, she will be memorialized forever through Eisenstaedt’s image and the VJ Day commemorative stamp. She may have resisted admitting her involvement in the kiss for some time, but ultimately Shain recognized the importance of the moment. She said of the kiss, “Someone grabbed me and kissed me, and I let him because he fought for his country.”
To learn more check out: "Edith Shain, nurse kissing Navy man in Eisenstaedt's WWII photo, dies at 91"