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Glenn McDuffie Dies, Claimed to Be Sailor in Iconic V-J Day Image

The embrace, captured by a Life photographer, inspired the statue known as "The Kiss" along San Diego's Embarcadero

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The man who claimed to be the sailor in a famous V-J Day image that inspired “The Kiss” statue in San Diego has died.

    Glenn McDuffie, 86, claimed he was the sailor in the embrace with a nurse in the famous World War II–era photograph captured by a Life magazine photographer.

    A 25-foot statue, "Unconditional Surrender," honoring the iconic image stands near the Midway Museum on San Diego’s Embarcadero. It's a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike.

    McDuffie died March 9 in a nursing home in Dallas, his daughter, Glenda Bell, told The Associated Press.

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    A mail carrier and semi-professional baseball player after he returned from World War II, McDuffie's life became more exciting about six years ago when Houston Police Department forensic artist Lois Gibson was able to identify him as the young man leaning over the woman in his arms to kiss her.

    By taking about 100 pictures of McDuffie using a pillow to pose as he did in the picture taken Aug. 14, 1945, by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, Gibson said, she was able to match the muscles, ears and other features of the then-80-year-old McDuffie to the young sailor in the original image.

    "I was absolutely positive," Gibson said of the match. "It was perfect."

    The identification remained controversial, partly because other men also claimed to have been the sailor in the image, but also because Life magazine, whose photographer had died years earlier, was unable to confirm that McDuffie was in fact the sailor, noting Eisenstaedt had never gotten names for those in the picture.

    McDuffie had told the AP he was changing trains in New York when he was told that Japan had surrendered.

    "I was so happy. I ran out in the street," said McDuffie, then 18 and on his way to visit his girlfriend in Brooklyn.

    "And then I saw that nurse," he said. "She saw me hollering and with a big smile on my face. ... I just went right to her and kissed her."

    "We never spoke a word," he added. "Afterward, I just went on the subway across the street and went to Brooklyn."

    The woman believed to be the nurse in the photo, Edith Shain, visited the statue in San Diego. She passed away in June 2010. 

    Gibson's daughter, Bell, said on anniversaries of the war's end her father would recall that moment and the air of excitement in Times Square.

    For years it bothered him that he wasn't identified as the man in the photo, she said, and he turned to Gibson for help to clear it up.

    "He wanted to do it before he died," she said.

    McDuffie is survived by his daughter and two grandchildren. His funeral will be held March 21 at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.