Hope, Love, Peace and Tomorrow

Edith Shain, the nurse who became something of an icon along with the sailor who kissed her in a very crowded Times Square on V-J Day in 1945, died last week.

Both the sailor and the nurse remained anonymous for years until Shain wrote a letter to Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt.

“Thirty-five years later,” The New York Times wrote, “Mrs. Shain, who was teaching kindergarten in Los Angeles after having been a nurse at Doctors Hospital in New York during the war, wrote to Mr. Eisenstaedt, saying ‘now that I’m 60 it’s fun to admit that I’m the nurse in your famous shot.’ (She was 27 when it was taken). She asked him for a print.”

While Shain seems to have claimed to be the nurse, no credit for the romantic sailor has ever been given.  “We received claims from a few nurses and dozens of sailors but we could never prove that any of them were the actual people, and Eisenstaedt himself just said he didn’t know,” Bobbi Baker Burrows, an editor at Life, told The Associated Press in 2008.

However, on July 16, 1991, in response to a letter for my book,What Do You Stand For?, Carl Muscarello told me his story. Several follow-up conversations with Carl by phone convinced me that he was, in fact, the sailor in the photo.

What proof do I have?  Maybe his story, from the book and an August 2009 commentary, will give you some idea.

Most people may not recognize Carl Muscarello by name but are probably familiar with his picture.

He’s the sailor kissing the nurse in Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic, 1945 photograph on V-J Day in Times Square. However, Carl describes himself as, “an Italian-American kid from Brooklyn, New York who has been fortunate in that happiness in my life has come from my children, their children, my family and friends and my belief in God.”

Carl’s story comes from my book, in response to the question,What Do You Stand For? and reflects on the importance of a good reputation.

“Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. Believe in what you are doing.

“I was born in New York City in 1926, the third of eight children. My father, Sebastian, and my mother, Maria Grazia, both emigrated from a small town in Sicily, Italy. I could not speak English until I was about five years old.  I was fluent in the Italian language, specifically, the Sicilian dialect.

“When I became a New York City Policeman, and later a detective, due to this talent I was assigned to intercept conversations from telephone wiretaps and hidden listening devices. The conversations were all in the Sicilian dialect. At the time, organized crime was controlled by the Sicilian Mafia, so I was assigned to infiltrate the mob to make controlled buys of contraband. You should have seen the look on some of the wise guys’ faces when my true identify was learned.

“As I appeared in Court to testify against them, one screamed, ‘How could you do this?’ as I was Italian just like they were.

“Yes, I was Italian, but not like them, and neither was my father, or my brothers who did back breaking work in the construction industry to support their families.

“My name, I got it from my father. It was all he had to give. It was now mine to use and cherish for as long as I may live. If I lost the watch he gave me, it could always be replaced, but a black mark on our name can never be erased. It was clean the day I took it, and a worthy name to bear when he got it from his father. There was no dishonor associated with it, so I made sure to guard it wisely.

“After all is said and done, I was glad my name was spotless when I handed it to my son, Tony. True to form he has only enhanced it. And all my nephews have done the same.”

After sharing Carl’s story with friends, the inevitable questions came up, to which Carl kindly responded.

Was the Times Square photo staged?  Did you know the nurse?

“ABSOLUTELY NOT,” he wrote. “This woman was a TOTAL STRANGER.  I said nothing to her before the kiss, said nothing to her after the kiss. I did not see a copy of the photo or was I aware that the photo was taken or that it existed, until about six months when my mother saw it in a copy of an old Lifemagazine.

“The first time that I had spoken to this lovely lady was in 1995, fifty years after the photo was taken, when a New York lawyer got us together.  I am now 73 years old, and the nurse is now 80 years young.  My wife and I had dinner with her in California about two months ago.  She is doing well. She still is a Great Gal, and still very kissable.”

When asked by The Associated Press what the photo meant to her, Shain said, “It says so many things – Hope, love, peace and tomorrow.”

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