Brian Balogh speaks with Shigeko Sasamori, a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, and Clifton Truman Daniel, grandson of the man who ordered that strike, about the friendship that grew as both of them worked on a project to bring survivors’ stories to the U.S.
***This transcript comes from an earlier broadcast of this show. There may be minor changes to the audio version you hear above.***
BRIAN: If you’re just joining us, this is BackStory, and we’re talking today about instances of reconciliation in American history. We’re going to end with a story that really stretches the limitsof reconciliation.
SHIGEKO SASAMORI: Hello, my name is Shigeko Sasamori. I was born in Hiroshima, Japan.And I was 13 years old when atomic bomb drop in Hiroshima. And now, I’m living in Americamany years.
CLIFTON TRUMAN DANIEL: Hi. My name is Clifton Truman Daniel. I’m Harry Truman’s oldestgrandson. I’m also the honorary chairman of the Harry S. Truman Library Institute inIndependence, Missouri.
SHIGEKO SASAMORI: Yes?
BRIAN: Tell me what you remember of the day that the bomb was dropped.
SHIGEKO SASAMORI: Yes. That was August 6, 1945– such a hot day, and a beautifulsunshine, and blue sky. I heard the airplane. I look up at the sky. It was a silver shining airplane,had a long white tail and looks beautiful.
So I told my classmate next to me, look up the airplane. And just I point out up at the sky, I sawthe white things coming down. Then, almost same time, I had a very strong force knock medown.
Then when I became conscious, then I look around. I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t hearnothing– pitch black. And then, pretty soon, the blackness going away like a heavy fog’s goingaway.
Then first things I saw was the people moving. Some are under the houses. Some are on thestreet. And people are hurt– everybody hurt, and ashes all over, and skin. That time, I didn’tthink that was skin.
Some are clothes hanging down. And everybody look like pink. And that moment, I couldn’tfigure out why they are like that– look like a– horrible to explain.
BRIAN: Shigeko, herself, was horribly disfigured. One fourth of the skin on her head, neck, andchest was severely burned, like toast, she said. And her fingers were fused together. Hermother found her days later, lying in the darkness on the floor of a school auditorium, wherehundreds of victims were sheltered.
At first, she didn’t recognize her own daughter.
SHIGEKO SASAMORI: She had a candle. Was saying my name, Shigeko, Shigeko, Shigeko.Then she heard me, very weak voice, saying, here I am.
And then she looked down. And then, Shigeko? And I say, here I am. Yes, I am. She couldn’trecognize me.
BRIAN: Truman’s decision to drop the bombs remains controversial. Historians debate whetherusing the atomic bombs was really necessary to end the war. What we do know is that thenuclear arms race that began in the years following World War II would come to define globalpolitics for generations.
What memories do you have of your grandfather, President Harry S. Truman?
CLIFTON TRUMAN DANIEL: Mostly, he was Grandpa.
CLIFTON TRUMAN DANIEL: I didn’t know that he’d been president until I was 6 years old, andI found out when I went to school one morning. One of the teachers in first grade asked me.
CLIFTON TRUMAN DANIEL: (LAUGHS) The teacher said, wasn’t your grandfather presidentof the United States? And I said, I don’t know. That’s news to me. For the 15 years that I knewhim, he was my grandfather.
BRIAN: Did you ever talk to him about the Second World War?
CLIFTON TRUMAN DANIEL: No. Nope. I learned about the bombings of Hiroshima andNagasaki the same way you did– from my history books in class.
BRIAN: It would take many more years before Clifton truly connected to the events of August1945. When his son was 10, he came home from school one day with a book about a differentgirl from Hiroshima named Sadako Sasaki. This was the story– you may have heard it– of agirl suffering from radiation poisoning.
Sadako sets out to make 1,000 paper cranes, hoping– in accordance with Japanese lore– thatshe’ll be granted a great wish. That wish was to be cured. But she died of leukemia at the ageof 12, nine years after the bombing.
CLIFTON TRUMAN DANIEL: That story– Sadako Sasaki’s story– was the first time I had everseen a personal story– a human story from either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. And it has a lot ofpower, because you put a face on it. In my history book, it was numbers.
You’ll find a picture of the mushroom cloud. There will be casualty figures. It doesn’t tell you ina lot of detail what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
BRIAN: One day, Clinton got a call from Japan. A man came on the line and told him that hewas Sadako’s older brother. A few years later, he invited Clifton to visit Japan.
CLIFTON TRUMAN DANIEL: My family and I attended the memorial ceremonies in Hiroshimaand Nagasaki in 2012. And we met with more than a dozen survivors. Each one of them askedonly one thing, and that was to please keep telling their stories so that everybody on Earthwould understand what it’s like to live through a nuclear explosion, in the hope that we do notdo it again.
BRIAN: That was two years ago. Since then, Clifton has devoted himself to telling those stories.And in the process, he met and developed a friendship with Shigeko Sasamori, who now lives in LA. They’re both involved in a project that brings Hiroshima survivors to speak at Americanhigh schools and that advocates for nuclear disarmament.
CLIFTON TRUMAN DANIEL: The common enemy here– the enemy is atomic weapons, period.
SHIGEKO SASAMORI: Yes.
CLIFTON TRUMAN DANIEL: The indiscriminate nature, the radiation– just the power. And theweapons that we have today, each one of them is hundreds of times more powerful than thebomb that exploded over Hiroshima. You really begin to realize just what we could all visit onourselves if we’re not careful, and if we don’t get rid of them.
SHIGEKO SASAMORI: That’s right. See, I think no matter what, atomic bomb is, to me, like ahorrible poison, a sort of a dynamite. A lot of people holding dynamite right now. Everybody getthe damage.
Once war started, we are not survive. No one survive. That, I feel.
That’s why I feel very urgent to people to open eye, open their heart, to teach each other aboutwar– what happens once war started. The people all over the world– the people together–can’t we help this Earth? That, I wish.
BRIAN: That was Shigeko Sasamori, a survivor of America’s nuclear strike on Hiroshima, alongwith her friend, Clifton Truman Daniel, Harry S. Truman’s grandson. The advocacy project theyboth work on is called Hibakusha Stories. You can read more at hibakushastories.org.
PETER: That’s going to do it for today. But we’re eager to hear your thoughts about today’sshow. Our email address is email@example.com. We’re also on Facebook, Tumblr, andTwitter at BackStoryRadio. Whatever you do, don’t be a stranger.
BRIAN: Today’s episode of BackStory was produced by Tony Field, Nina Earnest, AndrewParsons, Kelly Jones, and Robert Armengol. Our digital producer is Emily Gadek, and JamalMillner is our engineer. We had help from (? Coley ?) [? Elhi. ?] BackStory’s executive produceris Andrew Wyndham.
Special thanks this week to Kathleen Sullivan and Bo Jacobs.
ED: Major support for BackStory is provided by an anonymous donor, the University of Virginia,the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Joseph and Robert Cornell MemorialFoundation, and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. Additional funding is provided byWeinstein Properties; by The Tomato Fund, cultivating fresh ideas in the arts, the humanities,and the environment; and by History Channel, history made every day.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Brian Balogh is professor of history at the University of Virginia. Peter Onufis professor of history emeritus at UVA and senior research fellow at Monticello. Ed Ayers ispresident and professor of history at the University of Richmond. BackStory was created byAndrew Wyndham for the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.
MALE SPEAKER: BackStory is distributed by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.