How a survivor of Hiroshima and Truman's grandson became friends (podcast interview transcript)Roundup
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 limits of 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 America many years.
CLIFTON TRUMAN DANIEL: Hi. My name is Clifton Truman Daniel. I’m Harry Truman’s oldest grandson. I’m also the honorary chairman of the Harry S. Truman Library Institute in Independence, 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 beautiful sunshine, 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 saw the white things coming down. Then, almost same time, I had a very strong force knock me down.
Then when I became conscious, then I look around. I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t hear nothing– pitch black. And then, pretty soon, the blackness going away like a heavy fog’s going away.
Then first things I saw was the people moving. Some are under the houses. Some are on the street. And people are hurt– everybody hurt, and ashes all over, and skin. That time, I didn’t think that was skin.
Some are clothes hanging down. And everybody look like pink. And that moment, I couldn’t figure 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, and chest was severely burned, like toast, she said. And her fingers were fused together. Her mother found her days later, lying in the darkness on the floor of a school auditorium, where hundreds 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’t recognize me.
BRIAN: Truman’s decision to drop the bombs remains controversial. Historians debate whether using the atomic bombs was really necessary to end the war. What we do know is that the nuclear arms race that began in the years following World War II would come to define global politics 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, and I 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 president of the United States? And I said, I don’t know. That’s news to me. For the 15 years that I knew him, 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 and Nagasaki 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 different girl from Hiroshima named Sadako Sasaki. This was the story– you may have heard it– of a girl suffering from radiation poisoning.
Sadako sets out to make 1,000 paper cranes, hoping– in accordance with Japanese lore– that she’ll be granted a great wish. That wish was to be cured. But she died of leukemia at the age of 12, nine years after the bombing.
CLIFTON TRUMAN DANIEL: That story– Sadako Sasaki’s story– was the first time I had ever seen a personal story– a human story from either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. And it has a lot of power, 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 in a 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 he was 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 Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2012. And we met with more than a dozen survivors. Each one of them asked only one thing, and that was to please keep telling their stories so that everybody on Earth would understand what it’s like to live through a nuclear explosion, in the hope that we do not do 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 American high 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 the weapons that we have today, each one of them is hundreds of times more powerful than the bomb that exploded over Hiroshima. You really begin to realize just what we could all visit on ourselves 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 a horrible poison, a sort of a dynamite. A lot of people holding dynamite right now. Everybody get the 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 about war– 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, along with her friend, Clifton Truman Daniel, Harry S. Truman’s grandson. The advocacy project they both work on is called Hibakusha Stories. You can read more at hibakushastories.org.
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