SARASOTA — After a spring and summer where the “Unconditional Surrender” statue in Sarasota was under threat by some people who wanted it to come down, it appears it will stay where its at.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-16th), who represents the city along with the rest of his district, stepped up to suggest it shouldn’t be moved in an appeal to Sarasota leaders.
The sculpture, which stands 26 feet tall along U.S. 41 near the Sarasota bayfront, has been criticized by some for representing a moment in history when a nurse was kissed by a U.S. Navy sailor in what has been since described as an unwelcomed touch.
The sculpture was originally based on an award-winning photo in Life magazine. The artist, Seward Johnson, died in March at the age of 89 in Key West.
After the sailor depicted, George Mendonsa, died in 2019, the sculpture was vandalized with the words: #metoo.
Mendonsa said he was coming out of a movie when people started screaming the war was over, he said. He was with the woman who would become his wife, but said he saw another girl in the street and decided to kiss her.
“I had quite a few drinks that day and I considered her one of the troops,” he said in an interview. “She was a nurse.”
She wasn’t actually a nurse, nor in the military.
The woman depicted was a dental assistant. In interviews in 2005 and 2012, she said she wasn’t a willing participant in the moment.
“It wasn’t my choice to be kissed,” Greta Zimmer Friedman said in 2005. “This guy just came over and grabbed … the man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.”
She died in 2016.
But to many, “Unconditional Surrender” isn’t about her thoughts about the moment. It’s about the end of World War II when the announcement was made that Japan capitulated to Allied forces in 1945.
Buchanan is among them.
“The statue is a prominent and popular landmark of Sarasota’s Bayfront,” Buchanan said in a letter to Sarasota City Commission members. “I’ve spoken with many people in our region, especially veterans, who feel strongly about keeping the statue in its current location.”
Buchanan held an online survey in August, he said, with more than 80% saying they wanted the sculpture left where it’s been for more than a decade, he said in a news release.
“The ‘Unconditional Surrender’ statue is extremely meaningful to Sarasota’s veteran community and honors their sacrifices for our country,” he wrote. “This statue commemorates a significant moment in our nation’s history that we shouldn’t erase from the Sarasota Bayfront.”
On Wednesday, Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin said he had “an excellent conversation” with Buchanan, noting the city had received similar feedback about the sculpture.
The sculpture will be moved while construction is underway on a roundabout near its current location in 2021.
But the city said it is going to do its own survey to help decide what comes of it next.
“The City Commission will make the final decision on the relocation of ‘Unconditional Surrender,’” Barwin wrote in a news release. “The survey results will be included in the materials provided to the City Commission to be considered as part of its deliberations when it determines the location of the statue.”