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Is He the Kissing Sailor?

V-J Day, 1945. Glenn McDuffie is in a New York subway near Times Square when the people around him start yelling and cheering. Someone shouts, “The war’s over, buddy, you can go home!”

The young sailor runs out into the street and catches the eye of a young nurse. He grabs her, kisses her, just as a LIFE magazine photographer snaps their photo.

The picture has become an icon of American history depicting the celebration of peace after the war. But Glenn McDuffie’s battle to be acknowledged as the sailor in the photo has continued since that day. Now Nelson Mullins attorneys Zeb Alley, Chip Killian, Dave Harlow, and Steve Martin are assisting Mr. McDuffie, pro bono, in his quest. 

With evidence analyzed and an affirmative conclusion by a noted Houston forensic artist along with some additional sleuthing, the Raleigh attorneys want Time Warner, the corporate entity that owns Life and the rights to the photo, to lay the mystery of the sailor’s identity to rest.

“All these years he has had this desire to be taken seriously. Money is not the motivating issue with him. He is not in the best of health, and what he wants most of all is to be finally recognized as the kissing sailor,” said Mr. Killian.

Mr. McDuffie’s brother, former State Sen. Jim McDuffie, approached his longtime friend Zeb Alley to assist his brother, who lives in Houston. Those in the family who knew Mr. McDuffie at the time of the photo recognize him in the photo and have always believed his story.
But about a dozen other men also claim to be the infamous “kissing sailor.”

Mr. McDuffie was on shore leave Aug. 14, 1945, and had been home to Kannapolis, N.C., to visit his mother. The sailor then left Kannapolis to visit his girlfriend in New York and was there when the war ended.

In the early ‘80s, Time Warner ran an article seeking the identity of the sailor. Mr. McDuffie sent in his testimony, and after running a story on the respondents, excluding Mr. McDuffie, he received a letter from the Managing Editor for LIFE magazine later saying they were not pursuing the real identity any longer. “They sort of brushed him off, and that upset him,” Mr. Killian said.

Mr. McDuffie was being interviewed on a Houston television station when he caught the eye of Houston Police Department’s Lois Gibson, noted by the Guinness Book of World Records as the forensic artist with the highest crime-solving rate based on composite sketches. She photographed McDuffie in the same pose depicted in the photograph and recorded all of Mr. McDuffie’s measurements. Using his sailor’s hat to establish a scale, Gibson compared the measurements of his wrist, hand, ear, and hairline in the new photograph with those from the original. She also looked at the photographs of others who claim to be the sailor.

Now she’s a McDuffie believer.

“Lois has done really good forensic work, and we have Glenn’s own account of events,” said Mr. Martin. In the photo there are two other sailors who are clearly visible, and “we’re going to try to identify them. Glenn says that both of them served on ships with him during the war, and that he can identify them. We’d like to verify that these other sailors are the ones Glenn knows and track down them or their families. In this case, we have to prove Glenn is the kissing sailor, and we need to disprove the claims of the other men who claim to be the kissing sailor.”

With all that evidence in hand, the attorneys will approach Time Warner. “If we pitch this right, this would be a great public relations opportunity for Time Warner to acknowledge him and keep the intellectual property rights to the photo if they wish,” Mr. Killian said.