"Times Square Kiss" icon on a holiday crusade

February 11, 2010 8:12:35 PM PST
It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. A photo taken on Aug. 14, 1945 spoke volumes about the joy that marked the end of World War II. Thursday, the woman in the "Times Square Kiss" photo was in San Jose for a very special reason.

That photo, along with the photo of the Marines hoisting the American flag at Iwo Jima, are icons in our nation's history. The nurse who was photographed being kissed by a sailor wants a special day of remembrance for the "Greatest Generation."

Her name is Edith Shain. She was working as a nurse at a New York City hospital the day Japan surrendered. Now at age 92, she recalls vividly how she took the subway to Times Square where the crowds were celebrating the end of the war.

"When I came here, of course, there were clumps of people who were celebrating and talking about it," she said. "And so I waked into these people to celebrate with them and all of a sudden someone was holding me and kissing me."

They elected a war-time hero president, they made and bought cars, they started families, creating a huge baby boom and a need to entertain them, and they turned the American dream of peace and prosperity into reality. The television show "Ozzie & Harriett" reflected their lives. They became the "Greatest Generation."

"It helps the children of this generation and future generations know how we cooperated during World War II; we wanted to know what we could all do and we did it, we all helped each other," she said.

Shain is in San Jose to support a campaign to mark the second Sunday of August into a day of commemoration for the post-war generation. She is attending a special reception ahead of a big band show called "In the Mood" at San Jose's Center for the Performing Arts. The organizers behind the day of commemoration say a bill is making its way through Congress.

"Now they're passing at a rate of one every 90 seconds," commemoration organizer Warren Hegg said. "There's a memorial in Washington, D.C. We thought it was very important that all across the nation, on the second Sunday of every August, we pause and remember the incredible achievements of these people."

Shain and the members of her generation remember the post-war era as a special time. While their memories will fade in time, they hope that their stories will live on.

"The photo represents so much," Shain said. "It isn't just love, it's hope. Hope for tomorrow, hope for our country, a future, plans... it was just wonderful."

You would be hard-pressed to find a finer example of our living history.

A website, www.spiritof45.org, is encouraging Americans to talk to war veterans and to document their stories. Its partners are also leading the campaign to create the national day of commemoration.