VA Backtracks on Plan to Ban Iconic V-Day Kiss Photo From Facilities

V-J Day in Times Square
V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Denis McDonough, the U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary, has overruled supposed plans to ban Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous photo V-J Day in Times Square from all department health care facilities.

Speaking on Twitter, McDonough confirmed that the photo is not banned and will be kept in all VA facilities after a supposed internal memo by assistant under secretary RimaAnn O. Nelson argued for its removal.

“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 [Veterans Health Administration] facilities,” the memo read.

“This action reflects our dedication to creating a respectful and safe workplace and is in keeping with our broader efforts to promote a culture of exclusivity and awareness.”

A leaked copy of the memo shared by @EndWokeness on X.

The memo, which which ABC reports is authentic, was shared on X, formerly Twitter, and within a few hours, McDonough spoke out on the platform reversing the decision.

“In Times Square on V.J. Day I saw a sailor running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make a difference,” Eisenstaedt said of the photo. “I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder but none of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse.”

The woman, later identified as Greta Zimmer Friedman, died in 2016 at the age of 92. George Mendonsa, the sailor, passed away in 2019 just shy of 96 years old.

Today, the photo is a polarizing image, as it is viewed as the iconic image of the United States’ victory over Japan in 1945 while others see it as encapsulating sexual assault.

As explained in under secretary RimaAnn O. Nelson’s supposed memo, the image captures a non-consensual act:

“This memorandum requests the removal of the ‘V-J Day in Times Square’ photograph from all Veterans Health Administration facilities in alignment with the Department of Veterans Affairs’… This action is promoted by the recognition that the photograph, which depicts a non-consensual act, is inconsistent with the A”s no-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment and assault…”

This stance, which Secretary McDonough clearly does not agree with, is not isolated. In 2014, Osez le feminisme — a group of French feminists — demanded that a statue based on Eisenstaedt’s photo be taken down for similar reasons.

“We cannot accept that the Caen Memorial erected a sexual assault as a symbol of peace,” the group argued. “We therefore request the removal of this sculpture as soon as possible […] The sailor could have laughed with these women, hugged them, asked them if he could kiss them with joy. No, he chose to grab them with a firm hand to kiss them. It was an assault.”

The director of the museum where the statue was erected pushed back, saying that Friedman had said that she never considered the incident to be assault. The group countered, arguing that she also has been quoted as saying that she was unable to escape the moment.

Update 3/6: The original story incorrectly attributed the header image. We apologize for the error.