Plea to Sarasota Veterans
Looking for a Few Good Men (& WOmen!)
To step up and do the right thing
This petition is public plea to the esteemed veterans of the Unconditional Surrender Veterans’ Group (American Legion Post 266, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3233, and American Legion Post 159) to “do the right thing” as the members of The Greatest Generation they intended to honor were justly famed for doing, and either support signage explaining the fuller history of the moment immortalized by Alfred Eisenstaedt’s lens, or request that the City of Sarasota return the statue they fought so hard for to Seward Johnson’s estate for permanent display at the Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey.
While the statue represented love and fellowship to Jack Curran and his loyal comrades who lobbied for it, history has now shown that the incident it depicts is not what people thought it was. Valorizing a stolen statue which romanticizes and paints as heroic a drunken act of forced intimacy is inappropriate in 2022, and trying to cover-up the inconvenient, but now widely-known truth of the moment, is untenable in the long-run, and dishonorable in the present.
It is time to lay down the arms that have held this city, and the future, and the “vise grip” of a well-intended mistaken memorial to a misunderstood moment from the past. Although those who do not know the backstory of the incident in Times Square have taken joy and solace in recreating what the world now knows was a forced kiss, people born in this century cannot see the false memories and misplaced sentiments erroneously written into the indelible image captured by uncredited artist Alfred Eisenstaedt’s lens.
Living in the giant shadow cast by Seward Johnson’s romanticized, colorized and inflated swiped imagery has caused pain to a generation of women, children, authors, and artists. The statue plagiarizes an artist, Alfred Eisenstaedt, and Johnson contractually prohibited the city from giving him any credit for the work. Also, based upon what we know now to be true about the nature of the act Eisensteadt photographed, the statue’s festive treatment of forced intimacy poorly represents the considerable sacrifice of our service members, and sets a totally inappropriate exemplar of love and valor for the future.
The disturbing diorama this oft-Instagramed-object creates was traumatic enough to one raped child living in the area that she confessed her assault for the first time, and a man is now in jail as a result. But every time this issue is ignored or dismissed, Kelly Franklin, the civic activist who knows that child, must explain that it is not the child who is crazy for seeing the unwanted domination in the off-balance stance and and headlock of the female figure in the statue, but rather that we are living in a mad world at the moment.
Veterans alone have the power to end this madness. The quote under the Hemingway book cover is what one brave local veteran—a woman— wrote to Congressman Vern Buchanan when the fate of the statue was discussed, under the fire of a fraught election season, in 2020.
A big man owns up to his mistakes, as George Mendsona did, and learns from them. The veteran who purchased the statue, Jack Curran, was, based upon the accounts of all who knew him, a good man, and his gesture was meant to honor love and the sacrifices of The Greatest Generation. Unfortunately, we’ve learned some uncomfortable truths about the moment of depicted as romantic mutual celebration in Seward Johnson’s stolen art.
This is NOT about castigating George Mendonsa, or the men of his generation. Indeed, it was the Greta figure’s leg which was briefly labelled as being part of a moment of non-consensual sexual contact. Although the “whodoneit” element of that artistic mystery remains, to those of us who share visceral understanding of the body language writ large in the pose, the hashtag added by the anonymous Sarasotan was powerful precisely because it made clear that it is the women and children subject to forced intimacy who carry the shame and the scars of these sort of encounters—then and now.
In the haunting Eisenstaedt photo, George’s actions can be understood in context. That is not true of the gargantuan, inherently deceptive, Kodachrome portrayal of the moment in Seward Johnson’s pirated statue.
It is clear that after countless fruitless attempts to break through the simplistic and misused “cancel culture” invective, that only the brave warriors who brought this misunderstood monument to these shores have the power address its unintended consequences or to request its return. Please, in the name of honor, and the principles enshrined in the Constitution you vowed to uphold, man up, step up, and act with dignity and valor by admitting, and taking responsibility for correcting, the super-sized case of mistaken identity that is Unconditional Surrender.