Amid a lush garden accented by a Japanese bridge, a group of Minnesotans honored the lives shattered by an atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan 66 years ago.
“We must never forget the nuclear bomb has the potential of destroying the world. We must never ever again have nuclear warfare”, said JoAnn Blatchley, Convener of the Minneapolis St. Paul Hiroshima Nagasaki Commemoration Committee.
The Hiroshima Commemoration at Lyndale Park Peace Garden took place the morning of August 6th and included a moment of silence at 8:15, which is the time the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. The bomb killed approximately 140,000 people.
Some were killed instantly, others died of radiation later. Nagasaki was bombed three days afterwards. Close to 74,000 people were killed and about the same number injured in that attack. Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 14, 1945.
“We are trying to prevent another nuclear war. Our focus has been to engage people both young and old here in the Twin Cities so that it’s always in our minds and hearts there will never be another nuclear war,” explained Blatchley.
This is the 26th year the Hiroshima commemoration ceremony has taken place at Lyndale Park Peace Garden. Although remembrances of the bombings happened for many years before, it was 26 years ago a stone from Hiroshima was donated to build the Japanese bridge in the peace garden. Later, a stone from Nagasaki was added.
As part of the 2011 commemoration, Storytellers Elaine Wynne and Renee Weeks-Wynne performed “The Legend of Sadako and the 1,000 Cranes”. It is the true story of a child who suffered from the bomb’s radiation and died, but not before inspiring hope for peace by folding 1,000 paper cranes.
A statue of Sadako stands at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Southwest Minneapolis High School student Quincy Powe visited the site during an exchange trip to Japan. He shared his experiences during the ceremony. Powe didn’t know much about the memorial before his visit and was very surprised.
“When I got there I saw clothes, disease, their bubbly skin, parts of their bodies torn off. The experience was life changing, sad, scary, I didn’t know what emotion to feel because I wasn’t expecting that and it was overwhelming,” said the 16 year-old.
Powe said the lessons about the bombing in Hiroshima didn’t stick with him in elementary school. Seeing the evidence and the stories depicted at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum made a lasting impression.
“Seeing innocent people, especially kids who didn’t know what was going on with government or war, were hurt, their lives destroyed. They had to live with that, the burning, wanting water, wanting the hurting to stop. It was hurtful and saddening experience for me,” he added.
Powe is sharing his impressions of Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum with friends and neighbors and he hopes to expand his audience once school starts again. The high school junior says the trip not only changed his thoughts about history, but also about the future of nuclear warfare.
“As I was looking at pictures and materials at the Memorial Museum, I realized this can kill a lot of innocent people. It made an impact on me and the way I look at nuclear weapons. No country should have them. They need to be abolished,” he said.
This year’s commemoration events take on a sharper focus with the recent nuclear crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant after a devastating tsunami in March.
“It has definitely been on the minds of people here,” commented Blatchley.
During Saturday’s ceremony, Blatchley read a message from the Mayor of Hiroshima, which mentioned the fear and distrust of nuclear power created by the fallout at the Fukushima plant.
“I think we have not seen the end of what is going to happen with Fukushima,” said Blatchley.
The 2011 Hiroshima Nagasaki “Days of Remembrance and Response” events started with a tea ceremony called a Chanoyu. In addition to the Hiroshima Commemoration, a procession called “Living in the Nuclear Age” traveled from 40th and Bryant South in Minneapolis to the Spirit of Peace sculpture in the Lyndale Park Peace Garden.
The group was led by Women in Black. Veterans for Peace, Chapter 27, then led the Ceremony of 11 Bells. The Days of Remembrance concluded with the Nagasaki Commemoration at Como Park. The event included a moment of silence for Nagasaki, St. Paul’s Sister City.
Participants ended with a ceremonial walk through the global Harmony Labyrinth. All of the events were organized by volunteers. Blatchley says she is especially encouraged by the involvement of young people, such as Quincy Powe.
“So these events we offer in community help us to remember the tragedy and the uselessness of the bomb,” she said.