V-J Day ‘Kiss’ photo stays up at VA facilities after viral memo

  • An internal memo called for the photo to be removed from VA facilities
  • VA Secretary Denis McDonough said Tuesday the image is not banned
  • A VA spokesperson told NewsNation the memo should not have been sent out

ADDS INFORMATION ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHER- FILE – In this Aug. 14, 1945 file photo provided by the U.S. Navy, a sailor and a woman kiss in New York’s Times Square, as people celebrate the end of World War II. The ecstatic sailor shown kissing a woman in Times Square celebrating the end of World War II has died. George Mendonsa was 95. This image was taken by U.S. Navy photographer Victor Jorgensen. The photo is of the same moment that photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured and first published in Life magazine. (Victor Jorgensen/U.S. Navy, File)

(NewsNation) — The famous photo of a Navy sailor kissing a woman on the streets of New York at the end of World War II won’t be banned at Veterans Affairs medical facilities after a department memo ordering the image to be “promptly removed” went viral on social media Tuesday.

Shortly after a copy of the memo was shared online, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough clarified that the “image is not banned,” overruling a VA assistant undersecretary who had requested that facilities take the historic photo down because it violated the VA’s sexual harassment policy.

In a memo dated Feb. 29, Assistant Under Secretary for Health for Operations RimaAnn Nelson called on all VA facilities to remove the iconic V-J Day kiss photo because it depicts a “non-consensual act” that is “inconsistent” with the department’s “no-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment and assault.”

“To foster a more trauma-informed environment that promotes the psychological safety of our employees and the Veterans we serve, photographs depicting the ‘V-J Day in Times Square’ should be removed from all VHA facilities,” Nelson wrote.

A copy of the memo was posted by the X account EndWokeness on Tuesday morning and quickly racked up millions of views, with many users citing it as an example of political correctness run amok.

When reached by email, a VA spokesperson told NewsNation the memo had been rescinded and should not have been sent out.

Two people familiar with the memo confirmed to the Associated Press that it was authentic and said McDonough had never approved it.

The photo, known as “The Kiss,” was taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt on Aug. 14, 1945 — the day Japan’s surrender to the United States was announced. First published in Life magazine, it shows George Mendonsa planting a kiss on Greta Friedman. The two had never met.

“Employees have expressed discomfort with the display of this photograph, suggesting that its presence could be construed as a tacit endorsement of the inappropriate behavior it depicts,” Nelson wrote in the memo, noting that “perspectives on historical events and their representations evolve.”

In a 2005 interview, Friedman told the Library of Congress that it wasn’t her choice to be kissed and “it wasn’t that much of a kiss. It was more of a jubilant act that he didn’t have to go back.”

“It wasn’t a romantic event,” she said. “It was just an event of thank God the war is over kind of thing.”

Friedman said she and Mendonsa continued to exchange Christmas cards over the years.

After Friedman died in 2016, her son told the New York Times that she didn’t view the interaction negatively.

A life-size statue in Sarasota, Florida, depicting the famous moment was vandalized in 2019 with graffiti reading “#MeToo.”

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