KANNAPOLIS, N.C. -- A Kannapolis native who planted perhaps the most famous kiss in the world died last week in Houston, his family said.
Glenn Edward McDuffie, 86, was believed to be the sailor made famous in the V-J Day photograph taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt in Times Square. Commonly called "Kissing Sailor," the photo shows McDuffie embracing a nurse -- believed to be the late Edith Shain -- and kissing her.
He died of natural causes on March 9, his daughter said.
Stories abound about the identities of the couple and the circumstances of the kiss. Time magazine has never confirmed an official story, since Eisenstaedt never asked for names.
McDuffie was born on Aug. 3, 1927 and grew up on Packard Street in the Car Town neighborhood of Kannapolis, his first cousin Ann Erwin said.
He was 15 when his classmates started enlisting for World War II.
“I was the youngest kid on the ball teams, and two weeks after school was out, they were all gone,” McDuffie said in a 2007 interview prepared for the Library of Congress. He felt left behind and decided he was going too.
“He was stubborn,” said Glenda Bell, McDuffie’s only surviving child. “… He was going to go, by God.”
“He had to lie about his age to get in, and he had to get his friend to forge his parents’ signature,” she said.
He spent most of his World War II service protecting merchant ships in the Atlantic Ocean before coming home near the end of the war.
On Aug. 14, 1945 -- V-J Day -- McDuffie was in New York City on his way to visit his girlfriend in Brooklyn. He had to switch trains in Times Square and walked to the top the subway stairs where a woman told him the war had ended.
His oldest brother had been a Japanese POW who endured the Bataan Death March. Now there was hope for his release.
“When that lady told me the war was over I thought ‘if the war’s over he can come home,’” McDuffie said in the 2007 interview. “I run out in the street jumpin’ and hollerin’.”
His exuberance led him out into Times Square, where he said a nurse looked at him with her arms open.
“And that’s when I went over and grabbed her and started kissing her,” he said. “And that’s how I celebrated V-J Day.”
He said a man, who turned out to be Eisenstaedt, took their picture then left, and he went on to meet his girlfriend without ever saying a word to the woman he kissed.
“That’s the real story,” Bell said.
After the war McDuffie played minor league baseball in Virginia and worked for the U.S. Postal Service, she said. He eventually moved to Texas.
He didn’t know about the famous photograph until about 20 years later when a friend pointed saw it and told him about it.
“He knew all along it was him,” Bell said, but numerous other men claimed to be the sailor.
“He was pretty angry that he wasn’t getting the recognition for it,” she said.
McDuffie tried for 20 years to prove the man in the photo was him. Eventually, he sought the services of Lois Gibson, a veteran forensic artist at the Houston Police Department.
“He said ‘if she can’t prove it’s me than no one can,’” Bell said.
Gibson confirmed his identity by comparing his body proportions and other features to the photograph, Erwin said. He went on ABC’s “Good Morning America” with Dianne Sawyer in 2007 to speak about the photo and his life.
And so began a whirlwind lifestyle of going to air shows, gun shows, fundraisers and parties to tell his story. Women would pay $10 to take a picture kissing him on the cheek, Gibson said.
"He would make money and kiss women," Gibson said. "He had the most glamorous life of any 80-year-old."
“He was overwhelmed with the attention but loved it, because he is a people person,” Bell said.
While his family is convinced it was McDuffie in the photo, Bell said she likes that the absolute confirmation will never come.
“It will take away from the mystery of the picture, and that’s one of the things that makes it so iconic,” she said.
McDuffie will be interred in the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery after a ceremony on March 21.
This story contains material from the Associated Press.