In the summer of 1945, as the world was emerging from the shadows of World War II, a photograph captured a moment that would resonate through the ages. Marlene Dietrich, the iconic German actress and singer, found herself at the heart of a scene that embodied both passion and patriotism. In that instant, as the lens of a camera immortalized their embrace, the world bore witness to a poignant symbol of the war’s end.
The photograph, now etched into the annals of history, reveals Marlene Dietrich locked in a passionate kiss with an American soldier, his uniform bearing the mark of a returning hero. The soldier on the left, who appears to be playfully holding her up, couldn’t help but appreciate the captivating view before him. This iconic image graced the pages of Life Magazine, accompanied by a caption that perfectly encapsulated the moment: “While soldiers hold her up by her famous legs, Marlene Dietrich is kissed by a home-coming GI.”
The backdrop of this unforgettable scene was the USS Monticello, a converted cruise liner. Originally named SS Conte Grande and built in 1927 in Trieste, Italy, this ship underwent a transformation during World War II when it was acquired by the United States and renamed USS Monticello (AP-61) in 1942. At the time the photograph was taken, the Monticello was carrying parts of the 2nd Infantry Division back to American soil. These soldiers, who had entered the war on D-Day and fought their way across Europe into Czechoslovakia, were finally returning home. Their arrival in New York on July 20, 1945, marked a momentous occasion, but the war was not yet over for them. They were bound for Camp Swift in Texas, preparing for what was supposed to be their role in the impending invasion of Japan.
Marlene Dietrich’s journey to that moment was equally remarkable. Born a German actress and singer, her career began in Germany and later blossomed in Hollywood, where she achieved worldwide fame. Beyond her captivating performances, Dietrich was known for her strong political convictions and unwavering willingness to voice them. In a time when the world was in turmoil, she stood as a beacon of resistance against the dark forces of Nazi Germany.
In interviews, Dietrich revealed that representatives of the Nazi Party had approached her, urging her to return to Germany. Her response was unequivocal: a resounding refusal. Dietrich, an ardent anti-Nazi, had already become an American citizen in 1939, embracing her new homeland with a fierce loyalty.
As the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Dietrich wasted no time in contributing to the war effort. She became one of the first celebrities to champion war bonds, embarking on a nationwide tour from January 1942 to September 1943. Her appearances before troops on the Pacific Coast leg of her tour alone numbered a staggering 250,000. She was lauded for selling more war bonds than any other star, her dedication unwavering even in the face of adversity.
At the war’s conclusion, Marlene Dietrich’s contributions did not go unnoticed. She was bestowed with the highest American civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, a fitting tribute to a woman whose passionate embrace in that momentary kiss with a returning GI symbolized the hope and love that endured even in the darkest of times. This photograph, a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of love, continues to inspire and remind us of the indomitable strength that carried the world through its most trying moments.