A controversial statue in Florida depicting the iconic photograph of a Navy sailor kissing a dental assistant taken on Aug. 15, 1945, in Times Square to celebrate the Allies’ World War II victory in Japan will reportedly remain in place after a Republican representative urged city officials to let it stay.
“Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin just told me the ‘Unconditional Surrender’ statue will remain at the Bayfront,” Rep. Vern Buchanan said in a statement Tuesday.
“That’s what the people of our community wanted overwhelmingly.”
— Rep. Vern Buchanan (@VernBuchanan) September 15, 2020
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The Republican representative had sent a letter to city officials as they discussed moving or removing the statue.
“The statue is a prominent and popular landmark of Sarasota’s Bayfront,” Buchanan wrote in his letter, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
“I’ve spoken with many people in our region, especially veterans, who feel strongly about keeping the statue in its current location.”
The 25-foot statue, as well as the photograph it depicts, has become controversial in recent years after Greta Zimmer Friedman, the dental assistant, said she did not give consent when George Mendonsa kissed her.
The backlash over the statue stems from a 2005 interview Friedman gave to the Veterans History Project.
“OK. Let’s get back to the kissing sailor. When he grabbed you and gave you a kiss, what did you feel like?” the interviewer, Patricia Redmond, asked.
“I felt he was very strong, he was just holding me tight, and I’m not sure I — about the kiss because, you know, it was just somebody really celebrating. But it wasn’t a romantic event. It was just an event of ‘thank God the war is over’ kind of thing because it was right in front of the sign,” Friedman said.
“He just grabbed you, gave you a kiss, and then was gone?” Redmond went on to ask.
“Oh, yeah, we both — we both left, went on our own way,” Friedman replied.
Following Mendonsa’s death in 2019, vandals spray-painted “#MeToo” on the sculpture, the Sarasota Police Department wrote in a news release.
At approximately 12:53 am, our Officers were dispatched to the intersection of N Gulfstream Ave & Bayfront Dr reference to an unknown individual spray painting ‘# MeToo’ on the Unconditional Surrender statue. Additional information is at https://t.co/gv10lGhcja pic.twitter.com/JakU8aI7QY
— Sarasota Police Department (@SarasotaPD) February 19, 2019
Members of Sarasota’s Public Arts Committee unanimously recommended in August to relocate the statue to the Sarasota Sahib Shriners’ campus, the Herald-Tribune reported.
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Although Buchanan’s tweet seemed to indicate the decision to keep the statue at the Bayfront was final, commissioners have yet to make a formal vote — though many have expressed a desire to keep the sculpture on the bayfront.
“I’ve consistently stated I’ll vote to keep the statue on the Bayfront, and I’m sure that’s where it will end up staying,” Commissioner Hagen Brody said.
“I wish the congressman would focus his efforts on passing a federal infrastructure bill to put Floridians back to work and ease utility rates for our residents. We’ll handle the big public art decisions from here.”
Buchanan said he was told the statue may be temporarily moved during the construction of a new roundabout but will be returned to the Bayfront when it is complete.
“The statue holds special importance to our veterans because it celebrates the joyous end of World War II,” Buchanan said in his statement.
“This is a win-win for our residents and all of the visitors who come to the great city of Sarasota.”
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