Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Nurse Who Became an Icon

Nurses who visit San Diego must not miss seeing what is probably the biggest nurse in the world. She is part of a 25-foot sculpture that stands harborside, next to the U.S.S. Midway – an aircraft carrier-turned-museum that attracts millions of visitors each year.

Visitors will You’ll quickly recognize the giant foam-and-urethane creation as a depiction of the famous photo taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt in New York City’s Times Square on V-J Day in 1945. The photo of the sailor kissing the nurse originally appeared on the cover of Life Magazine and is said to be one of the most recognized photos of the 20th century. The location of the huge statue in San Diego, named “Unconditional Surrender,” seems perfect because it sits among several other monuments dedicated to the military and World War II.

To see the sculpture, go to

The statue has been the subject of debate between art critics and the public. The critics have pronounced it “kitschy” and said that the “figures look like something from a cheap souvenir factory, blown up beyond any reason."

The public? Well, they just love it.

It’s fun to catch visitors’ expressions of surprise and amazement when they first come upon the nurse and sailor in the embrace. They relish having their photos mimicking the pose or standing below the nurse’s skirt, gazing upward. (There is nothing to see.)

The sculpture, on loan for free to the Port of San Diego, was installed in 2007. It did, however, cost more than $67,000 to move it from the Los Angeles area to San Diego. The nurse and sailor were scheduled to remain on display for a couple of years, but the expiration date has been extended numerous times by popular demand.

There have been recent news stories about the sculpture because the port authority officials have said that the statue is really, really leaving for good in May. But we are not to fret; volunteers have vowed to raise nearly $1 million to have a bronze likeness of the statue constructed. There are smaller, life-size versions in several other cities in the country, and it’s not clear what size the San Diego bronze will be, but this current foam version weighs 6,000 pounds.

When Eisenstaedt took the photo in 1945 of the two kissing in Times Square, he never obtained their names. For years there was speculation as to who the two might be. Thirty-five years later, Edith Shain of Los Angeles came forward to say that she was the nurse. On V-J Day, she was working at Doctors Hospital in New York City, where she spent most of the war. She and a friend took the subway to Times Square to join the celebration. When they emerged from the subway, a sailor grabbed the then-27-year-old nurse and gave her a “long, long kiss.”

“…I figured since he was fighting for our country, I would let him kiss me," Shain said when interviewed years later.

She also said that her eyes were closed, so she never looked to see who was kissing her. About a dozen men have come forth to claim the distinction, but it’s been impossible to verify the sailor.

Shain was on hand in San Diego in 2007 when the 25-foot sculpture was installed. In her mid-80s then, she still looked happy, healthy and full of energy. She has been the featured guest at many World War II commemorations.

Shain earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1947 at New York University. She became a kindergarten teacher and a producer for public access television. Friends said that she visited hospitalized veterans until she died in June 2010 at the age of 91. To see photos and read about her life, visit Edith Shain's memorial website.

1 comment:

Les @ LPN Salary said...

67grand to move the sculpture. I'd say that's quite a lot for a tribute though.