SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - One year ago today, people driving through downtown Sarasota were greeted with a shocking sight on a familiar statue - graffiti.
Overnight on February 19, 2019, someone spray painted “#MeToo” on the Unconditional Surrender statue alone U.S. 41 near Marina Jacks. Police say they were called to the scene at North Gulfstream Avenue and Bayfront Drive shortly before 1am and discovered the graffiti, which they estimate caused $1,000 in damage.
Police say there was no available surveillance video of the area and no known witnesses. No one has been arrested for the crime.
Genevieve Judge, spokesman for Sarasota Police, said last year, “We’re not sure what they had in mind. It’s just heartbreaking they’d take matters to this iconic statue that’s a piece of art we have here in the city, and so, it’s under investigation, we’re trying to figure out exactly who did this.”
Gorilla Kleen, the company that regularly cleans the statue for the The Sculpture Foundation, a nonprofit in News Jersey that owns the statue, saw our news alerts that morning around 8:30am about the statue being vandalized. They immediately went to the statue, even though they weren’t contracted to clean it and aren’t being paid, to begin the process of removing the graffiti from the statue.
In around 45 minutes, the company had completely restored the statue, removing all of the graffiti using a special chemical and hot water and plenty of elbow grease.
John Cloud, owner of Gorilla Kleen, said last year, “It’s just sad to see anyone in this day and age to choose to purposely do damage to something that brings great pride to the community. It’s one of our most iconic pieces here.”
The graffiti came after news on Monday, February 18, 2019 of the passing of 95-year-old George Mendonsa. He is the sailor captured in a photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt kissing Greta Zimmer Friedman, a dental assistant in a nurse’s uniform, on Aug. 14, 1945 in Times Square. Known as V-J Day, it was the day Japan surrendered to the United States.
In 2005, Friedman told an interviewer with the Veterans History Project that she didn’t know Mendonsa, saying, ““It wasn’t my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and kissed or grabbed. That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.” She told CBS News in 2012, “I did not see him approaching, and before I know it I was in this tight grip."
Mendonsa told CBS News in 2012, "It was the moment. You come back from the Pacific and finally, the war ends. The excitement of the war being over, plus I had a few drinks. So when I saw the nurse, I grabbed her and I kissed her.”
Some argue that, in retrospect, the moment looks like it was an improper act. But it’s unclear if the two people in the photo looked at it like that.
In an interview with the Library of Congress in 2005, Friedman said, “It wasn’t that much of a kiss, it was more of a jubilant act that he didn’t have to go back, I found out later, he was so happy that he did not have to go back to the Pacific where they already had been through the war. And the reason he grabbed someone dressed like a nurse was that he just felt very grateful to nurses who took care of the wounded.”
The Library of Congress also spoke with Mendonsa in 2005, who described the moment in detail and how it related to his war experience. He said, “Between the excitement of the whole works and probably a few drinks, but most importantly it was the uniform she had. If that girl did not have a nurse’s uniform on, I honestly believe that I never would have grabbed her. And what it goes back to is in the Pacific we operated with all the aircraft carriers, and the Bunker Hill got hit with a couple of suicide dive bombers, and she was all aflames. And we happened to get near the Bunker Hill, and there was a lot of men trapped in the fires, and they were jumping overboard knowing that we could pick them up.”
“Well, anyway, we picked up a lot of men, hundreds of men, and later in the day we met with the hospital ship, the Bountiful was the name of the hospital ship, and we were transferring the wounded onto the hospital ship, and I was watching how the nurses were taking care of the wounded as we were sending them over. And I believe from that day on I had a soft spot for nurses, and when I saw that nurse in Times Square many months later, that it was the uniform that did it. I believe if that girl did not have a nurse’s uniform on, that I never would have grabbed her.”
When asked what she felt like when she was kissed that day, Friedman said, “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 died in 2016 in Virginia at the age of 92. Mendonsa died Sunday in Rhode Island, two days before his 96th birthday.
The nearly 30-foot tall Unconditional Surrender statue by artist Seward Johnson has been a fixture along Sarasota’s bay front since 2009. If you have any information about who damaged the statue, you’re asked to call Sarasota Police at 941-954-7025 or leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers by calling 941-366-TIPS or online at www.sarasotacrimestoppers.com.