The kissing sailor immortalized on the cover of Life magazine in 1945 may not have been a sailor after all.
Several have come forward to stake claim as the gallant seaman who swept a nurse off her feet in the famous Times Square photograph taken on Aug. 14, 1945, as the street erupted in celebration of V-J Day, when Japan surrendered to the Allied forces.
But an Estero man's explanation for the photograph differs from most.
The man in the picture wasn't a sailor, said Bob Dwyer, 77, who believes he is the one pictured in the famous photograph. At the time the photograph was taken, Dwyer was a 17-year-old student at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He was alone in his dorm room when he heard on the radio that the war had ended.
"I thought wow, what a great time to be in New York in a uniform," Dwyer said.
"You've got to understand, I was 17." Dwyer said the clothing he wore that day was a Navy-issued uniform from the Sea Scouts, a maritime program of the Boy Scouts of America. It was strikingly similar to the Navy uniform with the exception that it did not carry a Navy patch on the sleeves.
"I wasn't a sailor," Dwyer said. "I was a Sea Scout."
As the teenager sauntered down Manhattan's Times Square in his Sea Scout attire, he copied the sailors who grabbed compliant girls along the way for brief kisses. The women didn't seem to notice he wasn't a real sailor, Dwyer said. Neither did a photographer who wore a brown leather jacket and crouched on one knee just as the teenager swept a girl into his arms.
"The whole episode took about five seconds, maybe six seconds," Dwyer said. "Then she went one way and I went the other."
It wasn't until 15 years after picture was taken that Dwyer, who later enlisted in the U.S. Navy, saw the photograph in a West Palm Beach bookstore. Alfred Eisenstaedt, a staff photographer for Life magazine, had taken the famous V-J Day photograph.
Dwyer came forward with his story to Life magazine in 1995, the year Eisenstaedt died. He said he didn't want to embarrass the photographer, who once called the V-J Day photograph his most memorable.
"I didn't want to rain on his parade by telling him there was a flaw in his world-famous picture," said Dwyer, who flew to New York and approached Time-Life magazine with his story 10 years ago.
But no one at the magazine seemed to be interested, said Dwyer, who has yet to hear someone give an explanation for why the sailor's arm in the photograph does not include a U.S. Navy insignia. He believes his account was dismissed because it could have possibly damaged Eisenstaedt's reputation if the masquerading sailor was revealed. "I think I have a pretty solid story," Dwyer said.
According to information provided by a magazine spokesperson, Eisenstaedt did not write down names in Manhattan's Time Square the day the photo was taken and the magazine has never taken a position in any of the disputes regarding the identities of the sailor or nurse.
A California woman came forward in 1980 claiming to be the nurse and was later confirmed by Eisenstaedt. Edith Shain, who is now 87, was part of a ceremony earlier this year to unveil a statue of the kissing sailor and nurse.
Bob Dwyer, 77, who says he's the sailor in the famous VJ Day photo
Shain wasn't able to confirm who kissed her 60 years ago.
The picture remains the most reproduced image in the magazine's history and can be found printed on T-shirts, posters and purses. For now, Dwyer's story remains a topic for conversation among neighbors who notice the pictures hanging in the family's computer room. Photographs of the famous image, along with photographs of Dwyer in his younger days are framed on a wall.
"This is what I put up in my frustration," he said. "I got it out of my system."
Dwyer points out similarities between the hairline in his pictures and the man in the famous photograph. His hair has since turned white and the hands Dwyer said he used to grasp the nurse are now slightly wrinkled.
Despite the toll of time, Dwyer said his memory of the day is clear and his wife, Marjorie Dwyer, 67, is also convinced her husband is the nurse's kissing counterpart.
"A hairline is unique to each person, like fingerprints, and it's his nose," Majorie said. "We all knew it was him."
Dwyer has volunteered to take a lie detector test to validate his story, but so far no one has asked him for proof. "I doesn't bother me," Dwyer said. "I was just in New York and someone happened to take my photograph. I never expected money, that's why I never came forward."
Dwyer said it does make him chuckle every time a new person comes forward to stake claim as the sailor in the photograph.
"Maybe they all really think that it's them," Dwyer said. "But I swear on my children ... I was the one."