It was a holiday dream come true.
The Florida sun peeked through dark clouds in a setting straight out of a movie last week when a now-iconic photograph captured a US Navy sailor dipping and kissing his husband upon his return home from a seven-month deployment in the Middle East.
The picture-perfect moment on December 21 was made possible after military spouse Kenneth Woodington, 30, won a lottery to have the ceremonial “first kiss,” giving him the opportunity to be the first one to embrace his husband, 33-year-old sailor Bryan Woodington, after USS The Sullivans arrived back in Jacksonville.
The smooch culminated a months-long effort by Kenneth to win the long-shot chance to kiss his husband as soon as he stepped off the ship.
“Basically every month while he was gone on deployment, I called the Family Readiness Group,” Kenneth told Gay City News, referring to the organization that provides communication and resources for family members of those who are in the military. “There are raffles that you can win, and the one I won was ‘First Kiss.’”
The couple had already discussed how they would greet each other in the event they won the kiss, but it wasn’t until the night before arrival that Bryan learned they were picked.
“I was laying down and immediately woke up when I heard my name,” he said. “I ran up and talked to my higher-ups, who told me that we won. I was so ecstatic. I was on cloud nine.”
Bryan had asked Kenneth to wear white for the kiss — he told him to look like a “dental assistant” — so they could replicate the world-famous 1945 V-J Day photo in Times Square.
On the big day, Kenneth was waiting for Bryan when officials moved him closer to the arrival area, and he was suddenly overwhelmed with joy.
“When he was getting off the ship, all my emotions came in,” Kenneth recalled. “I dropped everything and I ran to him.”
The pair hugged and locked lips before Bryan proceeded to dip Kenneth, which came easy because he said he had been doing that throughout their relationship.
The couple, who married in 2017, first met on a dating app — but it wasn’t immediate smooth sailing.
“[Kenneth] was supposed to go on a date with somebody else that same night,” Bryan said. “That didn’t happen, and we started talking. Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I tried FaceTiming him — and he was shocked by that.”
But from that point forward, they quickly fell in love. While Bryan was at sea, he said his friends were supportive of his relationship — and they held out hope that they would win the first kiss. As expected, the couple received a warm welcome from sailors and families alike when the ship arrived in Jacksonville.
Online, the photo generated both positive and negative responses as it went viral on social media. But the couple remained unfazed because they were just happy to be together again.
“Everyone has their own opinion,” Kenneth said. “But we showed how much we care for each other. I’m happy we got to show our love.”
As for Bryan, there is no more waiting. He has a memory that will last a lifetime.
“It was something I’ve always dreamed about doing,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to do that for him,” he said.