Quirky Attraction: Kissing Sailor Statue in San Diego

kissing sailor statue

Kissing Sailor Statue (aka “Unconditional Surrender” or “Embracing Peace”)
Location: Tuna Harbor Park, San Diego CA
When to visit: During daylight hours – park is open from 6 am to 10:30 pm
Cost: Free
Time needed: 10 minutes
Website: www.portofsandiego.org/where-go/embarcadero/tuna-harbor-park
Further Reading: The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo that Ended World War II

It’s been a rough couple of months for iconic statues in major American cities. Chicago lost its Marilyn Monroe statue a while back, and San Diego struggled for quite awhile to keep the statue of a Navy sailor kissing a nurse.

The statue, designed after the famous photo taken in Times Square from World War II, was in San Diego along the harbor in the late 2000s before being removed for restoration purposes.

A few years later, it was returned to its proper resting place, and now the public can enjoy it again.

CHECK OUT THESE TOURS AND FUN ACTIVITIES IN SAN DIEGO

 

The “kissing sailor” statue is 25 feet tall, weighs 6,000 pounds and is called “Unconditional Surrender,” by J. Seward Johnson, although the city of San Diego has officially labeled it the “Embracing Peace” statue.

It’s not far from the Maritime Museum and the other attractions along the harbor. It lives in Tuna Harbor Park, not far from a Bob Hope tribute.

san diego unconditional surrender

It was really nice to be able to see this statue in person. As cool as the photos are, it looks even more impressive up close when you realize just how huge it is.

I saw it first while walking around the park, and then again later when I took a short boat cruise around the harbor. Multiple views of this iconic sculpture!

Return of the Kissing Sailor Statue in San Diego

The original statue was removed in 2012, but in 2013, a replica was installed back in San Diego, and it now rests there permanently. The USS Midway Museum raised $1 million to fund the replacement.

Other versions of the statue reside in various cities around the country. Cities such as Sarasota, Florida, New York City, Key West, and Pearl Harbor have all had versions of the Unconditional Surrender statue on display at one time or another.

But the San Diego kissing sailor statue is the most iconic, since it’s been there for many years and because the city is known for its large naval base.

As of 2020, Tuna Harbor Park is officially open from 6 am to 10:30 pm if you want to stop by to grab a selfie with this famous couple. Expect plenty of other tourists to be around! It’s a very busy area, since the statue has become such a famous sight.

tuna harbor park kissing sailor sculpture

Tuna Harbor Park can be found at 3 Tuna Lane. It’s very walkable from downtown and the Gaslamp Quarter.

From other popular neighborhoods like Hillcrest and North Park, you’ll have to drive or take transit to get there. Dogs are welcome in the park if they are on leashes.

Many couples take photos of themselves recreating the kiss in the grass in front of the statue. It’s a cool Instagram photo for sure if you choose to do that.

And don’t forget to stop by the San Diego Zoo or the Cabrillo Monument while you’re in town. Or even take a road trip to Joshua Tree National Park!

About the Sailor and Nurse

Interestingly, the woman depicted in the statue (and the famous photo) passed away in September 2016 at the age of 92.

Mischa Elliot Friedman had previously told reporters that she didn’t know the sailor and didn’t see him coming before he grabbed her and planted the famous kiss all those years ago.

The sailor, George Mendonsa, parted ways with Friedman immediately after the kiss. But that fleeting moment has now become such a famous landmark in San Diego and other places around America.

The photo itself was taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt and appeared on the cover of Life magazine, helping to cement its status as a lasting cultural moment.

In interviews later in life, Mendonsa said that he grabbed the nurse on a whim after having a few too many drinks.

After the kiss, they went their separate ways and did not stay in touch. In fact, Mendonsa did this in front of his girlfriend, whom he would later marry.

The Sailor Departs in 2019

UPDATE: In 2019, the sailor from the famous photo, George Mendonsa, passed away at the age of 95.

Mendonsa previously said in interviews that he grabbed Friedman because he was attracted to nurses, after seeing the way they cared for injured and wounded people following a Japanese bombing in the Pacific.

“It was the uniform she had,” he said. “If that girl did not have a nurse’s uniform on, I honestly believe that I never would have grabbed her.”

As for the photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt, he lived until 1995 and contributed some other noteworthy images, including a series of notable portraits of Sophia Loren.

embracing peace statue

You can get the rear view of the sculpture if you take a boat ride on the water.

 

Aftermath and Controversy of Unconditional Surrender Image

As you might expect, the statue and the story behind have become moderately controversial in recent years. World War II was a very different time than the 2020s, after all.

Some folks are now uncomfortable due to the fact that the nurse was grabbed without her permission.

Some wonder whether we should be glamorizing such a moment now that we’re living in a more enlightened era. Someone put spray-paint on the sailor statue in Sarasota after Mendosa’s passing.

But others still romanticize the moment as a celebratory gesture from a happier and simpler time. The statue represents our victory in the war and a time of celebration for the nation. Thus, the statue remains extremely popular.

In addition to this statue, J. Seward Johnson has created a number of popular statues around the country, such as Marilyn Monroe in Chicago and a series of lifelike human statues in Hamilton County, Indiana.

Note: If you’re really into World War II history, make sure to check out our article about the stellar and underrated World War II Museum in New Orleans!

About Quirky Travel Guy

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based freelance writer & fan of indie rock, road trips, ice cream, squirrels on power lines, runaway shopping carts, and six-way intersections. Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, which may earn me a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.

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24 Comments

  1. We saw this fantastic icon in August 2019, what an amazing statue, just found out we have an identical statue in Portmouth, right next to Nelsons flagship “HMS Victory” can’t wait to see it, but San Diego was special for us.

  2. My husband and I were very impressed when we attended his Northhampton navy reunion in San Diago and had a chance to visit the statue. My dad was a returning hero from World War II as well. My sister attended the reunion with us.

  3. That iconic pose is memorializing him violating her consent. Perhaps it is iconic, but not as a celebration of peace. It shows how little our culture cares about the agency of women.

    1. Disagree. The statue is iconic and forever a reminder of how happy they were to be done with the war. There is nothing whatsoever “Me Too” about it.

  4. In August 2013, we saw either that same statue or an identical copy in the seaport in Naples, Italy very near where the cruise ships landed.

      1. I think I saw one like this, at New York in Staten Island, snug harbor cultural center some time in 2005 is this same statue.
        Is this right year?

  5. Sad that they’re tearing it down! That’s such an iconic San Diego site. I’ll be headed there in June…I wonder if it will have survived through then.

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