HOUSTON -- Everybody knew his face, but nobody knew his name.
The photograph snapped Life magazine in Times Square the day the Japanese surrendered in World War II would quickly become one of the most famous pictures in American history: A sailor celebrating the war’s end by stealing an exuberant kiss from a pretty woman, bending over with one arm wrapped around her waist and another hooked behind her neck.
“Yeah, that was my girlfriend,” Glenn McDuffie later joked to the guys at Frency’s Barber Shop in Bellaire.
“She was standing out there in the middle of the street, she heard me, I turned around and did like this,” he recalled, bending over at the waist in a 2011 interview. “And I went over there and kissed her.”
Actually, he had never met the woman before the day he stepped out of a subway entrance and heard the war was over. And the photographer didn’t even bother asking his name.
So for more than six decades, McDuffie’s name was lost to history. And when he died in Dallas on March 9, the old sailor might have passed into obscurity if he hadn’t obstinately decided to prove his place for posterity by contacting a police sketch artist.
“I had him come to my house and I had him kissing a pillow,” said Lois Gibson, showing off photographs hanging in her office at Houston police headquarters. “I had him in the same position as the kissing sailor. And I took almost a hundred pictures.”
Gibson, renowned for drawing strikingly precise likenesses of faces using nothing more than clues provided by traumatized witnesses or decomposed corpses, didn’t believe she could prove McDuffie’s claim.
“I thought it was impossible,” she recalled. “I would’ve been thrilled to have the guy live here that was the guy in that famous kissing picture. So when I laid him on top of the other one and I saw it lined up, I started crying.”
After comparing the original photograph with her staged recreation, she had no doubt the retired sailor living in Houston was telling the truth.
“Every strand of muscle, every bone, the ears – the most complicated thing on your head – the ear was exact,” she said. “Everything. It’s him. I’m positive.”
After the news broke, McDuffie became famous all over again as the story spread around the world. Suddenly, he was invited to fly first class to naval balls. Sports teams gave him free seats in fancy suites, projecting his picture on stadium screens for cheering crowds.
And he ended up smooching with a lot of women.
“Everywhere he went, women would want to kiss him on the cheek and get their picture taken,” Gibson remembered. “And he was making $200 an hour signing the picture for $10 a picture. He was rolling in money and kissing women.”
With his place in history secured, McDuffie died at 86. But that picture of a young sailor stealing a kiss in Times Square will live forever.
Click on the video below to see an interview with McDuffie from Oct. 3, 2009 during the Lone Star Honor Flight, where 76 World War II veterans traveled to Washington, D.C. to tour several sites.