Controversial Kiss photograph can stay in veterans’ facilities after rapid U-turn | Photography

The Department of Veteran Affairs has walked back a memo that banned the iconic VJ Day in Times Square photograph from its facilities.

The VA secretary, Denis McDonough, announced the reversal of the memo on X (formerly Twitter), only hours after it began circulating online.

In a statement posted alongside the photo, which shows a navy sailor kissing a woman in New York’s Times Square, McDonough said: “Let me be clear: This image is not prohibited from VA facilities – and we will keep it in VA facilities.”

A spokesperson for the department told the Guardian that the photo remains in VA facilities. The spokesperson added that the memo was sent out inadvertently and had been “rescinded”.

Backlash surrounding the memo was even addressed by the White House. The press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, confirmed during a Tuesday press briefing that the VA would not be banning the photograph.

“I can definitely say that the memo was not sanctioned, and so it’s not something that we were even aware of,” she said, the Associated Press reported.

The February 29 memo, titled Removal and Replacement of VJ Day in Times Square Photographs, ordered the photograph’s removal to maintain a “safe, respectful, and trauma-informed environment.”

The memo stated that the photo “depicts a non-consensual act” and did not meet the agency’s no-tolerance policy around sexual harassment and assault.

The memo was written by RimaAnn O Nelson, the department’s assistant undersecretary for health for operations.

News of the photo’s proposed removal created a firestorm online among staunch critics of “wokeness”. Some denounced the decision as an affront to those who served in the second world war.

The photograph, widely known as The Kiss, was taken on 14 August 1945, the day that Japan surrendered to the United States.

The woman captured in the photograph, Greta Friedman, was working as a dental assistant at the time when sailor George Mendonsa grabbed and kissed her.

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Friedman has publicly said that she was not aware that Mendosa was going to kiss her.

“I didn’t see him approaching, and before I knew it I was in this vice grip,” Friedman said to CBS News in 2012.

But Friedman has also shared more positive reactions to the famous image.

“It was a wonderful coincidence, a man in a sailor’s uniform and a woman in a white dress … and a great photographer at the right time,” she said in a 2005 interview with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Friedman died in 2016 at the age of 92.