Adventure told by Gwen Graham-Feldkamp CDA, RDA,FADAA and Karen Minca, CDPMA, ADAA Sixth Trustee
It all began six years ago, when the ADAA published the online newsletter with a link to the "The Most Famous/Well Known Dental Assistant", Greta Zimmer Friedman.
Greta Zimmer Friedman (born Margarete Zimmer; June 5, 1924 – September 8, 2016) was an Austrian-born American who was photographed being grabbed and kissed by a stranger—a Navy sailor—on V-J Day 1945 by Life photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. Widely misattributed as being a photograph of a nurse, she was actually a dental assistant with a similar uniform.
She was born Margarete Zimmer on June 5, 1924 to a Jewish family in Wiener Neustadt, Austria. She was known as "Grete", "Greta" and "Gretl", variously. At age 15, Zimmer emigrated from Nazi-controlled Austria in 1939 with her sisters. Their parents, Max and Ida, died in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Zimmer took classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and did some work in toy design and dolls' clothes as well as maintaining an interest in the theater while still doing her dental assistant work. On VJ Day, she was dressed in her uniform and was celebrating the end of World War II in Times Square when a stranger (later recognized as the sailor George Mendosa) in a sailor's uniform grabbed her and kissed her.
"It wasn't my choice to be kissed," Friedman stated in a 2005 interview with the Library of Congress. "The guy just came over and grabbed!" she said, adding, "That man was very strong. I wasn't kissing him. He was kissing me. "I did not see him approaching, and before I know it I was in this tight grip," Friedman told CBS News in 2012. In 1956 she married Dr. Mischa Friedman and they moved to Frederick, Maryland. She attended Hood College, but did not graduate until 1981, the same year as her three children. Friedman worked for ten years at Hood College restoring books and studying watercolor painting. After reading the article I felt like I wanted to do some research and see if Greta may still be alive and if so do an interview with her. I thought dental assisting students that attend the Michigan Dental Assistants Association Student Day Event may be interested in what it was like being a dental assistant during that time.
I read everything I could find with her name on it and determined that she was still alive. Some of the interviews I read stated where she lived. Next I searched online telephone numbers and found one that I thought may be her. I dialed the number and too much surprise the most famous dental assistant answered the phone. I cannot even tell you how excited I was to be speaking with her. We talked for a while and she agreed to sign some of the famous photographs for me. She also agreed to answer some questions for me about her daily duties as a dental assistant during that period of time. In Greta's own words: "I was the only person in the office most of the time, working 40 hours a week, making $18.00 - $30.00 per week. I took xrays and every office had a sterilizer. The job required standing all day, which was tiresome"
1940's Assisting Uniform, Dental Chair, and X-Ray Unit.
October 2014, New Orleans, ADAA Annual Session. A motion was brought before the ADAA House of Delegates requesting Honorary Membership be conferred upon Greta Friedman. The vote was unanimous. A proud moment for Sixth District delegate Gwen Graham Feldkamp CDA,RDA,FADAA, who had researched Greta, contacted her and received her written story. Beautiful autographed photos of the "Kiss" were received.
Greta with 2 of her Grandchildren
During our many visits to Washington D.C. Gwen and myself found we had much in common. Both our fathers served in WWII, came home safely and had children, (All Girls). Together we visited the traveling statue in Michigan, carrying pictures of our dads from the service.
Gwen stayed in contact with Greta's son, Josh, who had told us soon after Oct. 2014, Greta had become ill and was entering a nursing home. We never had the chance to personally deliver her "Honorary Membership" award to her. Greta, quietly passed in Sept,8, 2016. Gwen, then contacted Greta's son and was informed that the ceremony was scheduled for Jan. 18, 2017 at Arlington Cemetery, Richmond. VA. We were honored to be invited.
Gwen, Josh & Karen
We packed up the car and we were on our way to Washington D.C. Leaving Michigan on Jan. 16, 2017 we traveled to Pennsylvania to stay with family, went on to Virginia to stay with more family and had the escort of a life time (retired Air Force), as Washington was busy preparing for the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. It matters not who you voted for; this was a very exciting time to be here.
The Old Post Chapel in Arlington is where the service was held. We were pleased to finally meet Josh Friedman, Greta's son. We were warmly welcomed and the service was beautiful. After the service we followed the procession to her place of internment with her Husband "Mischa Friedman". A wreath was placed from the "USS Sullivan", foundation. This was the ship that George Mendoza, the sailor in the photo, served on. We introduced ourselves and Gwen presented the representatives with one of the pins that we always wear of the photo.
Karen Minca, CDPMA, ADAA Sixth District Trustee
While in Arlington and Washington D.C. Gwen and I were honored to visit the grave of Troy Gilbert, an F-16 fighter shot down over Iran, 10 years ago. Troy Gilbert is the only person that has been buried 3 times at Arlington. First, when parts of his plane were recovered along with some brain matter. The second when fingers were returned and the last when the rest of his body was found and returned for burial in December 2016. Troy Gilbert's remains were taken by tribes and shared as a trophy. It was because of diligent work from family and friends that Troy's remains were recovered and not forgotten. Take some time to read his story online.