Famous WWII statue will remain after Florida GOP lawmaker intervenes

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A statue depicting an iconic World War II scene in Times Square featuring a sailor kissing a dental assistant after news of Japan’s surrender will remain along a beachfront after a Florida GOP congressman’s intervention.

“Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin just told me the ‘Unconditional Surrender’ statue will remain at the Bayfront,” said U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan in a statement, according to Fox News. “That’s what the people of our community wanted overwhelmingly.”

Last week, the Florida Republican asked local officials who were considering moving it or taking it down altogether to reconsider.

The statue, called “Unconditional Surrender,” is a rendition of a globally famous photo taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt in Times Square on Aug. 14, 1945, featuring U.S. sailor George Mendosa kissing Greta Zimmer Friedman, a dental assistant.

The two had never met; the kiss was spontaneous as crowds in the street learned that Japan had surrendered to the United States and the Allies less than four years after its navy attacked Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

In an interview decades after the incident, Friedman said that she didn’t make the choice to be kissed.

She died in 2016.

Mendosa died in 2019; afterward, vandals spray-painted “#MeToo” on the 25-foot sculpture.

In his letter to Sarasota officials last week, Buchanan said that the statue was popular and had widespread support among members of the community, particularly veterans.

“My on-line survey of area residents showed that more than 80 percent supported keeping it right where it is — and I agree with them,” he wrote.

Buchanan’s statement noted that the statue could be temporarily relocated as the city constructs a new roundabout in Sarasota’s Bayfront. The city will return it when the construction is complete, officials said.

“Special thanks to all of our veterans and residents who spoke out on the issue and made this possible,” Buchanan said. “And special thanks to Tom [Barwin] and city officials for making a great decision.”

There is a similar statue located in Caen, France, near Normandy, where U.S., Canadian, and British troops stormed ashore on June 6, 1944, to retake Europe from Nazi Germany.

It, too, has been mired in the sexual controversies of modern times.

The New York Times reported in October 2014 that a French Osez le Féminisme criticized the temporary display of the statue, saying “we cannot accept that the Mémorial de Caen holds up a sexual assault as a symbol of peace.”

To make its claim, the group recalled a 1969 book, “In the Eye of Eisenstaedt,” in which the photog recounted that Mendosa was embracing and kissing “young girls and old ladies alike. Then I noticed the nurse, standing in that enormous crowd. I focused on her, and just as I’d hoped, the sailor came along, grabbed the nurse, and bent down to kiss her.”

At the time, the organization, which had chapters across France, collected hundreds of signatures in opposition to the statue, which was created by Seward Johnson as part of a New Jersey exhibit at the time featuring “other statues of celebrated photographs from his series, Icons Revisited, including a 26-foot-tall sculpture of Marilyn Monroe with her skirt blowing upward.”

One of the objectives of the New Jersey exhibit was to introduce “provocative questions concerning our society’s embrace of particular visual icons, and their impact and shift of message over time.”

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Jon Dougherty

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