Sep 25, 2007

Hiroshima survivor recounts experience

Victim spends life promoting nuclear disarmament

CAROL A. CLARK Monitor County Editor

Despite her scarred face, neck and hands, a soft kindness emanates from Shigeko Sasamori, 68, as she describes living through the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Just six-years-old at the time, the first grader talked with classmates a mile-and-a-half from the point of impact.

"The day was so beautiful," Sasamori said of Aug. 6, 1945. "The sky was so blue. I heard the plane. I said to my classmate, 'Look at that pretty plane.' Then I saw something white and I said, 'Look at that pretty cloud.'"

Sasamori didn't realize that "pretty cloud" was a parachute carrying a bomb that would level her city. She remembered being suddenly blown backwards, rendered unconscious.

When she regained consciousness, she recalled thinking something had happened around her immediate area.

"I did not know that all the houses in the entire city were flattened," she said, adding that a baby's screams brought her back to fuller consciousness. "I did not know my face and hands were burned - I did not feel it, too much shock maybe."

Sasamori, speaking with a Japanese accent, gave an inspirational presentation at the Los Alamos Holiday Inn Sunday. She is one of just a few remaining atomic bomb survivors. As her talk progressed, increasingly gruesome details surfaced.

"People were burning alive, they couldn't get out of their building," Sasamori said. "People can see them inside the broken down building yelling, 'Help, help,' but no one has equipment to cut them out. I've been told burns are the worst pain. People who looked up at the bomb - their eyeballs melted out of their heads. The city began to smell so horrible, so many people hurt and dead. People's backs were black ... White worms got into the people's bones."

Sasamori remembered "dying every minute" and recalled her mother painstakingly nursing her back to health. All medical supplies were destroyed. Her mother treated Sasamori's mutilated skin with soybean oil. She remembered people coming by and expressing surprise that she was still alive.

That day and in the following days, months and years, Sasamori lost relatives, friends and classmates. Some died on the spot; others later succumbed to radiation induced illnesses.

Her story is featured in the new documentary "White Light, Black Rain," subtitled "The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki". Sasamori is one of a few survivors interviewed about her personal experience. Nearly 10 minutes of the film were previewed on Sunday. The film depicted Sasamori coming to America in 1955, as one of the "Hiroshima Maidens", for whom reconstructive surgery was provided. She said she has undergone at least 30 plastic surgery operations.

Experiencing the destruction of an atomic bomb, Sasamori said, has led her to value all human life. "I became a nurse and feel maybe God gave me a mission to tell how important (it is) to don't kill, don't bomb," she said. "I'm sure everyone has a good heart. The difference is some people cover up the good heart making nuclear weapons."

Sasamori said she is afraid to live in Los Alamos because "they are making nuclear weapons here and have disposal pits." "I felt needles in all my skin when I heard that," she said. "The government is using innocent people to work here. I would like to say to the people here, 'Get out.'"

Sasamori lives in California. She called her survival a miracle and said she doesn't want anyone to experience such horror.

She vows to fight for nuclear disarmament as long as she is alive and able. She shared plans to invite mothers everywhere to march on the White House, carrying their infants, to tell President Bush to honor the disarmament treaty and halt nuclear weapons manufacturing.

"God gave me life to do this," Sasamori said.

Following Sasamori's presentation, sponsored by the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG), Executive Director Gregory Mello briefed the audience on current disarmament struggles.

Mello, an LASG founder, specializes in outreach to the public, Congress, and the international disarmament community, as well as environmental review and litigation preparation emphasizing Los Alamos National Laboratory.

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