John McCaslin

If the past is any indication, aging veterans of World War II will be forming long lines in Washington this week for the chance to kiss Edith Cullen Shain, who is no ordinary 87-year-old great-grandmother.

It was during a triumphant celebration 60 years ago in New York's Times Square marking the Allied victory over Japan when the 27-year-old nurse, clad in her spotless white uniform, was grabbed by a jubilant sailor, swept back into his arms and dealt a kiss that, unlike the attack on Pearl Harbor, has never lived in infamy.

"It was a magnificent day, and it was a good kiss," Shain tells The Beltway Beat from her home in Santa Monica, Calif. "It must have been good, because it's lasted for quite a while."

So long, in fact, that Shain, who, after nursing, became a kindergarten teacher, still gets kissed today by men whose names - like the sailor of 1945 - she will never know.

"There's no way to determine his identity," she says. "I've received 25 letters over the years from men who said they were the sailor. They all provided details, and they all sounded credible.

"But it happened so fast," she continues. "The streets were crowded with very happy people - those who fought in the war, and those whose sons and daughters were returning. Everybody was grabbing everybody else and holding them. When the sailor kissed me, we never looked at each other. I wish I had. I went one way, and he went the other."

Wasn't the young nurse surprised one week later to see her picture in Life magazine, the famous kiss planted on her captured by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. She would keep her identity a secret for more than 30 years - finally contacting the photographer in 1979. The two agreed to meet in California, and it didn't take Eisenstaedt long to confirm that he had found his nurse.

On Thursday, Shain will arrive in Washington as a guest of the World War II Veterans Committee's eighth annual conference celebrating the anniversary of the end of the war.

Among those joining her in tribute to the "Greatest Generation" will be Enola Gay B-29 navigator retired Maj. Theodore "Dutch" Van Kirk, eight veterans of the famed "Band of Brothers," and legendary "Flying Tigers" pilots - retired Gen. David Lee "Tex" Hill, retired Maj. Gen. John Alison and retired Col. Don Lopez.

There also will be wreath-laying ceremonies at the National World War II Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. And on a happier note, a black-tie gala concludes with a 1940s-era swing band dance accompanied by a full 21-piece orchestra.

Shain says she has her dance card ready.

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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