Sadako, A Symbol of Peace


Symbol of peace

A young leukemia patient’s origami crane is part of a new exhibit at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center

By William Cole

A tiny folded paper crane will be unveiled at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center on Saturday, carrying with it the enormous weight of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack, the two atom bombs that were dropped on Japan ending World War II, and a fervent hope for peace.

The origami crane was one of more than 1,000 folded by leukemia patient Sadako Sasaki, who was exposed at age 2 to radiation just more than a mile from ground zero when the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay dropped the “Little Boy” nuclear device on Hiro­shima on Aug. 6, 1945.

Hospitalized in 1955, Sasaki painstakingly folded the cranes in the hope that she would live. Legend held that by folding 1,000 cranes, the gods would grant her wish.

The once fastest runner in her school died eight months later at the age of 12.

Sasaki and her paper cranes became a symbol of world peace and innocent lives lost during the war, and her family last year donated one of the cranes — made from a strip of paper that held medicine — to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, which supports the USS Arizona Memorial.

Some of the few remaining cranes have gone to the 9/11 Tribute Center in New York and a peace museum in Austria.

The delicate crane and two information panels about Sasaki and the occupation of Japan following the atom bomb drops on Hiro­shima and Naga­saki are part of a new $55,000 exhibit at the visitor center museum, said Paul De­Prey, superintendent of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes the Arizona Memorial.

Sadako’s brother, Masa­hiro, as well as USS Arizona survivor Lauren Bru­ner, now 92, will speak at an outdoor ceremony set for 8:45 a.m. Saturday. The public is invited to attend, and origami-making will be offered.

DePrey said the exhibit was mostly funded through the efforts of the Japa­nese Cultural Center of Hawaii, but also with support from the Japan Foundation in New York.

$70,000 was raised, and the remainder will go toward Saturday’s event as well as future educational programs for visitors and school groups, DePrey said.

The exhibit addition represents the latest evolution of the visitor center for the Arizona Memorial, which was dedicated in 1962 to “Remember Pearl Harbor.”

Some of the Japa­nese perspective leading up to war was incorporated into a new $56 million visitor center and museum opened in 2010, including a 12-foot photo of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt backed by an equally large Emperor Michi­no­miya Hiro­hito astride a white horse.

DePrey noted that the 2008 proclamation by President George W. Bush establishing the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument called for a broader story to be told “from Pearl Harbor to peace.”

The new museum, which was already in the works when the proclamation was made, “didn’t really talk about the period after the war,” De­Prey said. The new exhibit helps fulfill that mission, he said.

“Japan underwent several changes and changed from being basically a militaristic, aggressive enemy to (a nation) that was much more demo­cratic and encompassed a lot more in terms of human rights,” he said.

Survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack, as well as the general public, remain divided over how much of the Japa­nese viewpoint should be included at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, given that more than 2,400 U.S. service members and civilians were killed in the Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attack.

Controversy continues to swirl around the Japa­nese government’s degree of sincerity in its apologies for aggression in World War II, as well as over the decision by the United States to be the first to use nuclear weapons in war.

DePrey said the exhibit is “not intended to go into the horrors of nuclear bombs and the consequences of it.”

“The focus is really to allow visitors to be reminded that war injures more than soldiers. It also injuries civilians,” DePrey said.

Estimates are that up to 140,000 Japa­nese were killed instantly or by the end of 1945 in the Hiro­shima atom bomb explosion. A second atomic weapon was dropped on Naga­saki three days later on Aug. 9, 1945, killing as many as 70,000 to 80,000. Japan announced its surrender six days later.

Bruner, one of only about 11 USS Arizona crew members still alive, survived an explosion and fireball that engulfed the battleship by climbing a rope hand over hand 100 feet to the USS Vestal. He received burns over 70 percent of his body.

The California man, who practiced making his own peace crane to give to the Sasaki family, said he never had any animosity toward the Japa­nese people then or now.

“To me, in my own estimation, it was not the people of Japan themselves, it was the upper echelon that thought they could overrun (others),” Bruner said. “We just had to show them that they can’t.”

He thinks it’s a good idea to incorporate the Sadako Sasaki story and some postwar information about Japan into the Pearl Harbor museum. He also thinks the use of the two atomic weapons in 1945 ultimately saved a lot of lives.

Estimates are that casualties would have run into the millions for the Allies and Japa­nese with a land invasion of Japan. Japan was pursuing its own nuclear weapons program, meanwhile.

In a 2012 Japan Times story, Masa­hiro Sasaki acknowledged that strong feelings remain over the actions of Japan and the United States, but he expressed hope that his sister’s plight and her paper cranes can help bridge that gap.

Sasaki met last year in Japan with Clifton Truman Daniel, a grandson of the president who ordered the atomic bombings, Harry Truman.

“When someone from Japan says, ‘No more Hiro­shi­mas,’ someone else from the U.S. says, ‘Never again Pearl Harbor.’ These two sides always clash,” Sasaki said in the news story.

But he and Daniel were able to share the hope of overcoming the past, in part through his sister’s peace cranes, he said.

By placing a crane at Pearl Harbor, Sasaki said he hoped it would “lead to a true beginning of the end of the war between Japan and the U.S.”