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 to enjoy: 10 minutes
Website: www.portofsandiego.org/where-go/embarcadero/tuna-harbor-park

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 and returned.

The 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.

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

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! And don’t forget to stop by the San Diego Zoo while you’re in town.

About the Sailor and Nurse

Interestingly, the woman depicted in the statue (and the famous photo) died 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.

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

Some controversy has been stirred up in recent years due to the fact that the nurse was grabbed without her consent. Some wonder whether we should be glamorizing such a moment now that we’re living in a more enlightened era. But others still romanticize the moment as a celebratory gesture from a happier and simpler time. Thus, the statue remains extremely popular.

CHECK OUT THESE TOURS AND FUN ACTIVITIES IN SAN DIEGO

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. Looking for a hotel? I always recommend Booking.com where you can easily compare hotel rooms, prices, and availability. 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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20 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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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