Elizabeth VJ Day Celebrity
Today Big Cat Rescue hosted a celebrity. Her name is Elizabeth and she was the woman in the background of this famous photo.
Iconic VJ Day Sailor and Nurse in foreground and Elizabeth to the left behind them.
After news of the Japanese acceptance and before Truman’s announcement, Americans began celebrating “as if joy had been rationed and saved up for the three years, eight months and seven days since Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941″, as Life magazine later reported.
Fast forward 69 years…
Elizabeth came to meet Amazing Grace the Ocelot today as that is the cat on her purse hanger made by Jamie Veronica which was given to her as a gift by my mother, Mary Stairs. Elizabeth attends church with me and my family and makes me a hand crocheted cup doily each year.
Just over the sailor’s shoulder
WORLD WAR II
Times Staff Writer
28 August 2005
St. Petersburg Times
TAMPA – The first time Elizabeth Harris saw the photo, she had no idea it was an American icon in the making.
It was not long after V-J Day, Aug. 15, 1945. She was a 22-year-old from Tacoma, Wash., working in New York City and waiting for her fiance to return from the service.
When she saw Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstadt’s joyous shot of a sailor planting a big smooch on a nurse in Times Square amid the victory celebration, what she noticed was herself.
“That’s me,” says Harris, 82. “You can just see me over his shoulder.”
She’s not the nurse; several women have claimed to be, and about a dozen men have said they were the sailor. Life has never identified them.
“So many people claimed to be them, and I’m sure they all thought they were right,” Harris says.
But she is sure she is the dark-haired, laughing woman whose face is partly visible just above the sailor’s right arm.
Harris, then Elizabeth Bahler, worked in the accounting department of the J.C. Penney Co., on 34th Street off Broadway. “I used to ride up on the elevator with Mr. Penney.”
When news of the war’s end broke, she says, the bosses told everyone to take the rest of the day off.
She met her friend Rose Marie Jones, also from Tacoma, and they joined the throngs whooping it up in the streets of the city.
Somewhere near 42nd Street, they saw the sailor and the nurse.
“He just grabbed her. Everyone was screaming and hollering,” she says.
“I guess he hiked her skirt up when he grabbed her, because it wasn’t that short.” She taps the photograph. “Oh, those stockings with seams. They were horrible.”
She and Jones (who is also in the photo, Harris says, although just a smidgen of her forehead is visible) noticed the photographer. “But they were all over the place, too.”
In the swirl of the crowd, she didn’t see what happened after the sailor turned the nurse loose.
But Harris had other things on her mind than photographic immortality.
“I felt wonderful. I was engaged, and we were going to get married when he got back. Of course, we were going to get married whether the war was over or not.” But the end of the war meant the wedding might come sooner.
World War II had touched her life long before she came to New York.
In Tacoma, she says, there were often air raids. “The air raid warden lived right next door, and he scared us half to death” with warnings of what could happen if they didn’t follow orders.
She had several friends of Japanese descent who were sent to internment camps after Pearl Harbor. “They were second-generation American. They didn’t even speak Japanese.
“Those families lost everything.”
In 1943, at age 20, she decided to head east. “I don’t know how I had the nerve to do that, just get on a train and go across the country. But I did.”
She met James Harris not long after she came to New York. When she first arrived, she and her friend Jones lived at the YWCA in Greenwich Village.
“It was $6 a week, $3 for each of us. The bathroom was down the hall.
We could eat at the Automat for a total of about a quarter. We made $30 a week, so we did pretty well.”
Meeting her future husband, she says, was “very much serendipity.”
“Rosie came out (from Washington) ahead of me, and she met a sailor on the train. He wrote to his sister in Texas and told her about this nice girl on the train. The sister wrote her friend Bessie in New York.
“It turned out Bessie worked at the phone company with Rosie, and she took us to her church. The first time we went, we met James.
“He told his friend, “I didn’t know which one to take (as if he had to take one of us!), so I decided to take the small one.’
“Rosie never did see that sailor again.”
James Harris was a student at the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., when they met. Soon he was in the service, often performing dangerous duty such as loading and transporting ammunition.
He visited her in New York occasionally, but much of their courtship was conducted by letter, Harris says. “He was very good about writing, and I always wrote him back. We wrote just about every day.”
They became engaged in January 1945, when they bought a ring at Macy’s and then went to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, where he put it on her finger.
That building played another role on the day they applied for a marriage license: July 28, 1945.
That morning, as they were downtown getting the license, the pilot of an Army B-25 bomber became lost in dense fog, flew into Manhattan and crashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building. Fourteen people died.
“We were coming home and saw that plane sticking out of the building,” Harris says. “Thank goodness it was a Saturday; if it had been a weekday, a lot more people would have been in there working.”
The Harrises married in Manhattan on Sept. 11, 1945. After he got out of the service, with both of them working, they made $60 a week.
They lived in an apartment on W 69th Street, where Lincoln Center is today.
They later lived in Pennsylvania, then came to Tampa in 1951. They moved into a house near Lowry Park in 1957, when nearby N Boulevard was still a sand road. “I remember getting stuck in it.”
James Harris worked onshore for several companies while their three children were young, but he returned to the Merchant Marine after the kids were grown. He died in December.
Elizabeth Harris still lives in the house where they raised their family, a tidy place with wood paneling and lots of photos of the children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. “Almost three,” Harris says.
She and her husband were married for 59 years. “We were very fortunate.”
Their love of travel was one of their bonds; one son lives in London, and, she says, they got to travel all over Europe while visiting him.
In 1995, they spent most of a month in London during the 50th anniversary of V-E Day.
And on almost every anniversary of World War II events, Harris says, she sees that exuberantly romantic photo of a kiss in Times Square, and her own smiling face just above a sailor’s embracing arm.
“Throughout the years, on every anniversary, you see it and say, Oh yes! I remember.”
– Colette Bancroft