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Pic: Biden VA plans ban of iconic World War II V-J Day kiss photo, reverses decision amid backlash

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)
March 05, 2024

President Joe Biden’s Department of Veterans Affairs reversed a department memo that called for the iconic “V-J Day in Times Square” picture of a U.S. Navy sailor kissing a woman in New York City while celebrating the end of World War II to be removed from all its facilities. The reversal of the memo was announced Tuesday after a copy of it went viral on social media and received significant backlash.

A copy of the memo announcing the ban of the “V-J Day in Times Square” photograph was posted Tuesday on X, formerly Twitter. In the internal memo, which was distributed on February 29, Assistant Under Secretary for Health for Operations RimaAnn Nelson urged Veterans Affairs employees to “promptly” remove the iconic photo from all Veterans Affairs facilities.

“The photograph, which depicts a non-consensual act, is inconsistent with the VA’s no-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment and assault,” Nelson said in the memo. “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.”

Nelson explained that the ban was prompted by the department’s recognition that the photograph featured a “non-consensual act.” Nelson claimed that the picture was “inconsistent with the VA’s no-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment and assault.”

Two anonymous sources confirmed to The Associated Press that the internal memo sent by the Department of Veterans Affairs was authentic. The sources indicated that the secretary of Veterans Affairs never approved the memo and that the secretary reversed the memo after he was notified of its circulation.

Just hours after a copy of the VA assistant undersecretary’s memo was circulated on social media, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough tweeted out an image of the iconic World War II picture, stating, “Let me be clear: This image is not banned from VA facilities — and we will keep it in VA facilities.”

According to The Associated Press, the “V-J Day in Times Square” photograph, which is also known as “The Kiss,” was taken on August 14, 1945. V-J Day marked the end of World War II as Japan officially surrendered to the United States. The famous V-J Day picture shows George Mendonsa, a U.S. Navy sailor, kissing a woman named Greta Friedman. Prior to the kiss, Mendonsa and Friedman had never met, according to The Associated Press.