President Truman's grandson, Hiroshima survivor talk peace at Penn State Harrisburg
Shigeko Sasamori, who survived the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, thinks of Truman's grandson as she does her own son.
President Truman's grandson, Hiroshima survivor talk peace at Penn State Harrisburg
A woman who survived the dropping of the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima shared the stage with the oldest grandson of President Harry S. Truman, who ordered the bomb be dropped, at Penn State Harrisburg on Thursday.
Close friends since meeting in New York in 2012 through their mutual involvement in the nuclear disarmament movement, Clifton Truman Daniel and Shigeko Sasamori have been appearing together at events like this to remind the world what happened Aug. 6, 1945 — and to try and prevent it from happening again.
Daniel said he and Sasamori don’t discuss the merits of his grandfather’s decision to drop the atomic bomb.
“Having met survivors, I’m not going to tell a survivor that was a great idea. I’m also not going to tell an American serviceman who fought in the Pacific during the war, that it wasn’t a great idea,” he said. “It was a decision made in war. There were lots of decisions made in that war and they cost a lot of people their lives, and a lot of horror and a lot of pain all the way around … it’s sort of a moot point” today.
Sasamori bears no ill will toward the former president.
“I never met him but I have seen his picture. I can tell he was a very sweet man,” she said of Truman. “That was his job … even soldiers don’t want to kill the enemy, but in war they have to kill.”
Since they first met, Sasamori said she has thought of Daniel as she thinks of her own son, who is about the same age.
Her first impression of Daniel was from looking into his eyes, which revealed to her that he was a person with “a beautiful heart.”
God gave Daniel the same mission as her, Sasamori said — to warn of the horrors of war and nuclear weapons.
“We are soulmates,” she said of Daniel.
“It’s been one of the surprises of my life, and probably the greatest joy of my life, that she and I are friends, that this has happened. That we have come to this point,” Daniel said.
A beautiful morning
Sasamori told how she was in Hiroshima that day as a 13-year old junior high student.
The young men were all fighting in the war, leaving no one left to do the work except old people, women and children, Sasamori told the packed house in the Mukund S. Kulkarni Theatre.
Tokyo and other big cities had been hit with fire bombs, but not yet Hiroshima, a city of about 330,000 people including soldiers.
She and her classmates were in Hiroshima clearing paths around houses so people could escape in case of a fire bombing.
It was a beautiful morning, with blue skies and no clouds, when Sasamori saw a plane fly by and drop something white that Sasamori later learned was a parachute. It was 8:15 a.m.
Sasamori was outside and 2 miles from the hypocenter, meaning the site directly below the mid-air detonation of the atomic bomb.
She spoke of being unconscious for a long time, and when she came to, she was not able to see or hear. Then she could see hurt people, people burnt and naked, with no skin left on them or their skin coming off.
The first sound she recalled hearing was a baby screaming. A mother tried to nurse the baby, but the baby wouldn’t stop crying, Sasamori said.
She ended up in one of the “makeshift” hospitals set up after the bomb dropped. No one else in her family had been there. She knew her family would come looking for her, because she had not come home.
She spent five days and four nights in the hospital. She kept repeating her name and address the entire time and eventually was reunited with her family.
Sasamori’s face, chest, arms, hands and neck suffered severe trauma, and more than 25 percent of her body was burned.
Between 90,000 and 166,000 people are believed to have died in the four months after the atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, according to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.
Three days later, Truman authorized dropping a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, a Japanese city of an estimated 263,000 people at the time. Up to an estimated 75,000 people died immediately following the explosion, according to the foundation.
In 1955, Sasamori was among 25 victims of the atomic bomb attack, known as “Hiroshima maidens,” who were brought to the United States for reconstructive surgery by American journalist and peace activist Norman Cousins. Sasamori is the only member of the group still alive.
Sasamori was later adopted by Cousins’ family, continued her education in America, and became a nurse.
Sasamori said she believes that because she survived that day, God gave her a mission to tell the world her story, to try and prevent war and to rid the planet of nuclear weapons.
Daniel, the son of author Margaret Truman and former New York Times Managing Editor E. Clifton Daniel Jr., traced his journey to this point to a day years ago, when his 10-year old son Wesley brought home from school a book titled “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.”
It’s the story of Sadako Sasaki, a girl who survived the atomic bomb in Hiroshima but who developed radiation-induced leukemia. To try and save her life, she set the goal of folding 1,000 origami paper cranes. She folded 1,300, but died of leukemia in 1955.
Daniel, who was 15 when Truman died in 1972 at age 88, said he only remembers seeing his grandfather at family gatherings and vacations.
He doesn’t recall ever hearing Truman speak of dropping the atomic bomb, as Truman did not see these gatherings as an opportunity for “history lessons,” as Daniel put it.
Daniel’s own knowledge of the event was the same as everyone else’s — from “textbooks and straightforward American history” — until he read the book about Sasaki.
“That was the first human story I’d ever seen of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Daniel said.
A Japanese journalist wrote a story published in Japan about Daniel and his son reading the book.
Daniel was contacted by Sasaki’s older brother, also a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Daniel met Sasaki’s brother in New York City in 2010, where the brother and his son were donating one of Sasaki’s last paper cranes to the World Trade Center Memorial as a gesture of healing following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“At that point they dropped a crane into my hand. It was the last one she (Sasaki) folded before she died,” Daniel said. “They said, ‘Would you come to the ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (in 2012)?’ And we did.”
Looking to the future
Someone in the audience asked Sasamori how she had the strength to get through her experience. She responded that if anyone else in her family had been hurt, that pain could have been too great to bear.
Daniel spoke about an experience at a previous speaking engagement. Everyone had to wear a badge. Sasamori tore her’s off, folded it into a paper crane, and gave it to Daniel.
To him, that spoke of her indomitable spirit.
Their message of peace and disarmament is for all, but especially for young people who are “the future leaders of this country,” Daniel said. “It’s going to be your decisions in a few years whether we go forward or way back into the stone age with these weapons.”
Nearly 75 years since the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the number of nuclear weapons on the planet now exceeds 17,000.
“Even a tactical nuclear weapon these days is more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima,” Daniel told the audience. “Certainly the big ones are a thousand times more powerful. It’s unbelievable what these weapons can do. The fire power of even one of them makes Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like a firecracker.”
When he’s not on stage talking about nuclear war with atomic bomb survivors, Daniel since October 2017 has been on stage portraying his own grandfather in “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!”, the one-man show about the life and presidency of Harry S. Truman made famous in 1975 by the actor James Whitmore.
“It’s a very weird retirement,” Daniel joked, referring to his acting career playing his grandfather.
He thinks his grandfather would support what he and Sasamori are doing today.
He tells how Truman as president in 1947 during a state visit to Mexico laid a wreath at the tomb of six Mexican army cadets who died fighting against U.S. forces in 1847.
A reporter asked Truman, “Why would you pay tribute to an enemy?” Daniel said. “My grandfather said, ‘They had courage. Courage does not belong to any one country. You recognize courage wherever you find it.’”
“Conversely, suffering does not belong to any one country,” Daniel told the audience. “If suffering has been caused, you recognize it, you are honest about it, and you try to use that to move on and not cause that again.”