RI’s George Mendonsa, kissing WWII sailor, dies

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MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island man who’s claimed to be the sailor kissing a nurse in an iconic image at the end of World War II has died.

George Mendonsa, 95, died at an assisted living facility in Middletown Sunday.

Mendonsa was never able to convince LIFE magazine he was the sailor in the famous photo. However, recent facial recognition technology verified his lifelong claim.

When he was honored at the Rhode Island State House in 2015, Mendonsa spoke about the famous kiss.

“I saw what those nurses did that day when we had the wounded on my ship and we put the wounded on the hospital ship. And of course, I saw what those nurses did that day and now back in Times Square the war ends, a few drinks, so I grabbed the nurse,” Mendonsa said.

Lawrence Verria first met Mendonsa in 1995. He was determined to figure out the identity of the kissing sailor and co-authored a book about it.

“This picture is so familiar to so many people, it’s something that is ageless,” Verria said.

But as Verria began to get to know Mendonsa, he said he was more than just the sailor in that infamous photo.

“At first he was a topic of research, he then became a friend, and then a borderline family member,” Verria said.

Verria said he will remember Mendonsa as a hero and he said he was honored to know him. He also hopes Mendonsa’s story, like the photo, will live on forever.

“These are gifts to history, they are gifts to all of us to enjoy, so I think what’s most important, what George would want, is to be recognized that it, in fact, was him, as he said all along, and for people to share that moment with him forever,” Verria said.

The nurse in the photo – Greta Zimmer Friedman – passed away in 2016.

Mendonsa leaves behind a wife of 72 years, Rita, and their two children.

Visiting hours for Mendonsa will be held Thursday from 3-6 p.m. at the O’Neill-Hayes Funeral Home in Newport. His funeral will be held Friday at St. Mary’s Church at 10 a.m. followed by his burial at St. Columbia Cemetery.

Mendonsa’s family is asking attendees to donate to the Rhode Island Veteran’s Home in Bristol in his honor.

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