The little 737 glided almost silently over the azure waters of the rocky coastline, seeming to drop very slowly, a foot or two every few seconds. Huge and craggy outcroppings jutted from the sea to form tiny islands, some barren and clearly volcanic, and some with trees growing on their tops, roots clawing at the sparse soil in their cracks. Fishing boats were returning from their hard day’s labor, nets stretched across their bows.
I felt a sudden discomfort and my stomach churned as we took a sharp right turn and the city came into view. We were in our final descent. I was fascinated by the modern style of the city, although it was not unexpected – the architecture, the landscaping seemingly expertly planned. In spite of the fact that every acre of land in this country was jealously guarded and revered, there were scenic, green parks thick with lovely fruit and flower bearing trees. It was beautiful and unlike so many other Japanese cities I’ve visited.
My companions, Shenji and Hiro, were systems engineers sent by my Tokyo distributor to provide technical assistance during my presentation of a new computerized distribution system to a major super market chain.
Many years earlier, I was stationed in Tachikawa, near Tokyo, for two years as an Air Force cryptograph operator. I came to love this exotic and unique country and I hated to leave it when my tour was up. I was young, and I regretted not spending more time visiting the many interesting and beautiful cities and the relatively small pockets of countryside. Now, I was enjoying this two week excursion and many happy memories were returning.
I spoke poor conversational Japanese, and the presence of my two colleagues was imperative, so the presentation was long, and I was not entirely satisfied with the results. At least we did receive verbal approval for a small test installation that would begin in a few months, but no documents were signed. I would have to rely on Hiro and Shenji to follow through and to hopefully close the deal. They, on the other hand, counted this meeting as a win. They were ecstatic, saying that what we accomplished was extremely positive and unusual for a first meeting. They went on to say that most decisions in this culture took much contemplation and study – and nothing happened overnight. They wanted to celebrate.
I mentioned that I was not surprised that the city was so modern. That is because it literally rose from ashes in the late 1940’s and 50’s. This was Hiroshima. Perhaps it could be called New Hiroshima, since in all of history very few places of this size were ever completely wiped off the face of the planet and then, rebuilt so quickly.
President Truman made the agonizing decision to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 in an effort to end World War II and to stop the hemorrhage of American lives lost.
My new friends wanted to visit Peace Memorial Park. None of us had previously experienced such an opportunity. I didn’t know what to expect.
The park was large. The planners were not frugal in allocating enough space near the center of the city for this magnificent and serene place of contemplation and remembrance. A long, broad cement walkway led to the entrance, which allowed passage under a heavy arch. And, a memorial it was. There were many shrines with long queues of people carrying flowers to place in memoriam. In the center of the park stood the remains of a large department store, mostly intact, with its framed dome. All of the glass was blown away in the blast. The structure was in the exact epicenter of the explosion which was at an altitude of 3,000 feet.
There were many plaques in certain areas describing what took place. One large remnant of a concrete wall had the white outline of a huddled human being who was incinerated by the fiery blast, which lasted only milliseconds. The wall was blackened around the figure, since the body absorbed the heat and radiation. It was horrifying and looked like a macabre cartoon caricature.
I won’t continue to describe this place, as it must be visited. Although the event was horrific, there remains an aura that I can’t describe. It felt as if the collective body of souls had not left the area. Such a sad, yet tranquil feeling.
I recall feeling so many emotions welling up that my body was ready to explode. So many mixed feelings – so many tears. I sobbed unashamed and effusively, as did my companions. I never felt so much a part of humanity, and I never felt so saddened and sickened by the inhumanity.
To realize that 80,000 human beings were vaporized in the time it takes to blink your eyes truly boggles the mind. By the end of 1945 the death toll had reached 120-140,000, and one year later it exceeded 200,000. Who knows how many have since been afflicted with a multitude of cancers and other life sucking maladies? Who knows what was passed on to the generations born in the aftermath?