Hiroshima survivor: Even former enemies deserve closure

Published 1:51 AM EDT, Thu May 26, 2016
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Story highlights

Mori was only eight years old when two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan

He spent years tracing the American POWs who died to add their names to the Hiroshima memorial

CNN —  

Editor’s Note: The atomic bomb attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had, by the end of 1945, taken well over 200,000 lives. Many of those not instantly vaporized by the fireballs were left with horrific injuries. More would die from the effects of radiation or endure lifelong health complications. When CNN’s Will Ripley moved to Japan in 2014, he expected to encounter anger over America’s wartime actions. Then he met 79-year-old Hiroshima survivor Shigeaki Mori.

Shigeaki Mori was eight years old on August 6, 1945. He was walking to school at 8:15 a.m. when an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped the A-bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on Hiroshima.

“I remember the blast suddenly hit me from above. I was blown off the bridge and fell into the river. Because the river was shallow…and the waterweeds growing thick, I survived without injuries and burns,” Mori says.

Mori’s old primary school was 400 meters from ground zero. He says all the teachers and students in the building died. A police headquarters holding a small group of American POWs sat next to the school. Mori says he saw the captured airmen from his schoolyard. Some Hiroshima survivors even drew sketches of them.

What Hiroshima taught the world

Lost American lives

Today, we know 12 American POWs died as a result of the A-bomb in Hiroshima. The POWs included the crews of two downed American bombers – the Lonesome Lady and the Taloa.

The youngest, Airman 3rd Class Norman Roland Brissette of Lowell, Massachusetts, was just 19. But due to extreme secrecy and political sensitivity, it wasn’t until the 1970s that de-classified U.S. documents verified the presence of American POWs there. And even then, surviving families knew very little of the circumstances surrounding their relatives’ captivity and deaths.

Mori, a local historian, felt even Japan’s former enemies deserved closure. He was determined to uncover details of the POWs situation, share the information with their families, and ensure that the American names were placed on the wall of the Hall of Remembrance in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, alongside the tens of thousands of other victims.

We can still achieve a world without nuclear weapons

Decades of searching

Long before internet searches and easy access to information, Mori had only a list of twelve POW names a local professor gave him. He borrowed American phone books from the library.

For more than 20 years, he spent weekends going down the list of names and making calls from his home in the hills overlooking downtown Hiroshima. For some with common surnames, it would take several years to find their families.

“My phone bills were huge. My wife was upset about it,” Mori says.

Mori speaks only a few words of English, so he relied on operators to ask the relatives if anyone in their families died in the A-bomb.