Kissing to Honor History and One Iconic Image

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Couples locked lips beneath a 25-foot high sculpture replica of the kiss called “Embracing Peace” in Times Square to celebrate the 70th anniversary of one of America's most iconic images. Jessica Firger for Newsweek

Sometimes a kiss isn't just a kiss.

On August 14, 1945, the U.S. government declared victory over Japan, marking the end of World War II. A young sailor celebrating in New York City's Times Square grabbed a pretty nurse. In that moment, a photojournalist captured America's most iconic kiss in black and white.

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The original photo taken on Aug. 14, 1945, when the U.S. declared victory over Japan and the end of World War II. Alfred Eisenstaedt

This year marks the 70th anniversary V-J Day, when America honors the country's most memorable embrace and the men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. On Friday, more than 200 couples transformed the Crossroads of the World into kissing central and re-created the image in living color.

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More than 200 couples kissed in Times Square to mark the 70th anniversary of V-J Day. Jessica Firger for Newsweek

The event was hosted for a sixth year by the Times Square Alliance and Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive, a nonprofit campaign for V-J Day. This weekend, there are expected to be hundreds of events tied to the campaign to honor the Greatest Generation.

The couples, provided with sailor caps and roses, locked lips beneath a 25-foot high sculpture replica of the famous kiss photo called "Embracing Peace," by 85-year-old artist Seward Johnson.

It's well known that the young man and woman in the photograph were strangers, since photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt has said he saw the sailor grab the lady as he was running down the street in celebration. However, most couples who took part in this week's event were very well-acquainted.

Allessandra Biani, 32 years old, and Oscar Gifford, 40, were married in May and are expecting their first baby in November. After enacting the kiss for the papparazzi for the umphteenth time, Gifford said he wanted to participate in the event because he had served in the Air Force and was raised in a military family (and because he loves his wife). "I grew up with this image," he said. "It's the end of the war, it's the end of fighting."

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Allessandra Biani and Oscar Gifford lock lips. Jessica Firger for Newsweek

While the photo may be timeless, there were some couples attending the Kiss-In to celebrate what has changed. Tanner Glaves, 26, participated in the event with his boyfriend Bryan Matechen, 28. "We enjoy doing couple-ey things," said Glaves. "But I wanted to celebrate that we have the right and privilege to do this and not feel embarrassed or ashamed."

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Bryan Matechen and Tanner Glaves at the Kiss-In. Jessica Firger for Newsweek

To this day, the identities of the people in the photograph are unknown. In the years since the photo was published in Life magazine, dozens of men and women have come forward and attempted to claim the honor. Edith Shain, who attended the V-J Day anniversary celebration 10 years ago, contacted the photographer when she was 60 years old. However, authors of a book about the embrace believe she was too short to actually be the woman in the picture when compared with any of the dozen men who claimed to be the sailor.

But that part of the story doesn't matter to most people. It's what the photo represents: a lost generation, said 52-year-old Gary Caley, who kissed his wife Sue, 62. "They're still around, but they're not going to be around for long," he said "They're a dying breed."

Kissing to Honor History and One Iconic Image | U.S.