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‘The Kiss’ statue finds temporary home in Royal Oak

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Forgive the double takes by motorists on Woodward Monday morning. It’s not every day you see a 25-foot nurse smooching with a sailor on top of a flatbed truck.

The statue, Embracing Peace, is a sculpture by artist Seward Johnson depicting the famous August 1945 Life Magazine cover photo taken on VJ Day in Times Square in New York City of a sailor dipping a nurse and planting a kiss for all time.

The statue, on loan for six months, is intended to draw attention to a $3 million fundraising campaign for a permanent Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial in Memorial Park at Woodward and 13 Mile.

It was delivered Monday morning by truck from New Jersey and was to be hoisted into place by a crane.

Among several dozen dropping by for its arrival were several WWII veterans, such as Arthur Fishman, 90, of Oak Park. He remembers, with mixed emotion, VJ Day announcing the surrender by the Japanese.

“I was in Great Lakes Training,” said Fishman, who served in the U.S. Navy between 1944 and 1946. “I was supposed to get leave that weekend and then the war ended. No leaves. Later, I saw the photo in Life.”

Samantha Pattison, 50, of Royal Oak stood next to the statue, studying it with a smile on her face. She also clutched a small purse, decorated with rhinestones and a grainy reproduction of the famous photo.

“See her?” asked Pattison, pointing at a woman, grinning behind the couple as they were captured. “That’s my grandmother, Mable Kemp, who was standing in Times Square waiting for my grandfather to be released from his service. They were from New Jersey. You can’t see him but another relative was holding my father — who was a baby at the time.”

Kemp told her granddaughter about the famous photo “sometime in the late ’60s” before she passed away.

“It’s always been special to me,” said Pattison, who picked up the purse in a boutique and also has a T-shirt of the photo. “This (statue) being here would have pleased grandma.”

Debi Hollis, head of the project, said she hopes the sculpture will generate buzz and the donations needed to complete the $3 million memorial.

“This is an awe-inspiring piece,” Hollis said of the sculpture. “We’re working with the city of Royal Oak on a bunch of events just to publicize it, engage the public and ... raise funds for the project.”

The state-recognized memorial project at the park’s northeast corner will include nine bronze statues, a donor walk and a gathering space. More than 600,000 Michigan residents served in the armed forces during WWII, with numerous others contributing in the factories and the fields.

The sculpture is one of four American artist Seward Johnson created depicting the Life magazine photograph Alfred Eisenstaedt took April 14, 1945, the day Japan surrendered in World War II. Three permanent versions of the sculpture sit in Sarasota, Florida; San Diego; and Normandy, France.

Marty Myers, 89, of Farmington Hills, also in the Navy at the time, showed up at Monday’s event in a Navy “swabby” uniform — complete with white cocked hat and bell bottom pants — he picked up at a costume shop.

“My old uniform wouldn’t fit me today,” said Myers, still fit but a few pounds over his service weight of 129 pounds.

“I think it’s great they are bringing this (statue) in and long overdue that a proper memorial was set up in Memorial Park.”

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed.

Memorial donations

Anyone wishing to learn more about the planned WWII Legacy Memorial in Royal Oak or make donations can visit www.michiganww2memorial.org.