Japan Society President Jeffrey Miller Holds Compelling WW II Commemoration with President Truman’s Grandson
By Sybil Maimin
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Japan Society hosted a very moving program of “Stories from the Pacific War.” Dedicated to peace and reconciliation, the event brought together an American navy veteran and a Japanese atomic survivor whose lives had been deeply impacted by the war. Moderating the conversation was Clifton Truman Daniel, a writer whose grandfather, 33rd president of the United States Harry S Truman, authorized the devastating atomic bombing of the two cities.
Now elderly and bent, but sharp in memory and wit, World War II vet Fred Mitchell described the kamikaze suicide attack on his ship, the USS Drexler, that sank the vessel, killed 158 men, and left him, an 18 year-old sailor and Pennsylvania farm boy, floating in the oil-slicked, burning water for many hours before being rescued. He returned home consumed with hate for Asians, a passion that concerned his wife, his pastor, and also himself--” I didn’t want to die with hatred in my heart, I wanted to shake the monkey off my back, but didn’t know how.” Fortuitously, he met a filmmaker planning a documentary about kamikaze pilots and their victims and was invited to Japan to participate. There, he was overwhelmed by an abundance of warm greetings. Meeting with former Japanese soldiers, he found it “hard to believe we were enemies.” He realized, “We were young boys, patriotic to our country, wanting to serve our country any way we could. . . We were high school boys killing high school boys.” The trip sparked a “genuine release of my anger” and resulted in achieving his goal of forgiveness.
Masahiro Sasaki survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. His sister, Sadako Sasaki, who was two years old during the attack, subsequently developed radiation- induced leukemia and succumbed at the age of twelve. Before she died, with the help of classmates, she created 1,000 small folded paper cranes as a symbol of hope and peace. Her brother Masahiro travels the world trying to keep her message of hope alive and donates her cranes to appropriate sites; a crane has been given to the 9/11 Tribute Center as well as to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and the Truman Library. Spreading his sister’s wish to connect the world through a “compassionate heart” (“omoiyan no kokoro”), he noted, “It is not a matter of who is fighting on each side--the war itself is the enemy, the war is the problem.” Sadako Sasaki was the model for the Children’s Monument in Hiroshima Peace Park that commemorates all children who died in the bombing.
Clifton Truman Daniel grew up under the shadow of his grandfather’s controversial decision to drop the atomic bomb. He has tried to understand the history of the time and is now writing a book about the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He explains we all see photos of the mushroom cloud produced by the bomb but know too little about the people on the ground. He has learned much from Masahiro Sasaki. Seeing the American navy veteran and the atomic bomb survivor together says much about the possibilities of reconciliation, Daniel said. “Both have served their countries in their own way, but it is important that they both now serve humanity.”#