This week Japan marked the somber anniversary of the worlds first Atomic bomb attack with a ceremony at Hiroshima Peace Park.
A few years back, among the 50,000 attending the memorial service near the epicenter of the blast was a grandson of former U.S. President Harry Truman , the very president who ordered the Atomic bombings of Japan during WWII
Another much more awkward attempt at reconciliation occurred some 60 years earlier on an episode of the popular TV program “This is Your Life” that brought together surprised survivors of the Hiroshima blast with the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb.
The image of that uneasy handshake was forever seared in my Mother’s memory who along with millions of other viewers watched that famous Wednesday night episode in May of 1955 featuring the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto a survivor of the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima.
The Japanese minister was in the states to raise money to help pay for plastic surgery for a group of Japanese women known as the Hiroshima Maidens who were badly burned and disfigured from the bombing.
The format of the sentimental “This is Your Life” was based on a simple principle – guests were surprised with a presentation of their past life in the form of a narrative read by host Ralph Edwards and reminisces by relatives and friends
Wednesday nights were a rare night of relaxation for my mother.
She looked forward to a favorite program “This is Your Life,” always tickled by the appearance of the show’s infamous “mystery guest” who would inevitably surprise the unsuspecting featured subject causing copious tears.
Civil Defense is Your Best Defense
Because it was a Wednesday, it also meant my father would be out for the evening at his weekly Civil Defense meeting.
Dad was Marshall of Civil Defense for all of Western Nassau County, NY, and part of his job was conveying helpful information straight from the Department of Defense to groups of concerned citizens with a good case of atomic jitters.
Standing in for Uncle Sam, the folksy talks were composed of neighborly suggestions on how to protect yourself and plan now for possible emergency action if the moment of Atomic attack came.
At home, Mom settled in with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of formula for me in the other and prepared to be entertained.
After the introduction of the featured guest Reverend Tanimoto, the velvety voiced host Ralph Edwards walked him through the events leading up the Hiroshima bombings.
Oh, You Shouldn’t Have!
Returning from a commercial from their sponsor Hazel Bishop makers of long lasting nail polish, a loud disembodied voice was heard offstage:
“At zero six hundred on the morning of August 6 1945 I was in a B-29 flying over the Pacific. Destination Hiroshima”
Gently smiling, Edwards explained to the totally confused Tanimoto, it was a voice from the Reverends past that no one had ever heard before.
As Mom lit another soothing Parliament, the host was ready to reveal the surprise of the night.
“The voice again of a man whose second of eternity was woven up with yours, Reverend Tanimoto. Now you have never met him, you’ve never seen him but he’s here tonight to clasp your hand in friendship. Ladies and gentlemen, Captain Robert Lewis, United states air force who along with Paul Tibbets piloted the plane from which the first Atomic power was dropped over Hiroshima.”
With dramatic organ music worthy of the soap opera it had become, a nervous perspiring Lt Robert Lewis, the co pilot of the Enola Gay appeared from behind a sliding translucent screen door as the audience applauded wildly.
As my father spoke to a Kiwanis meeting hall full of people, peppering his speech with lots of of snappy phrases provided by the government like, “Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow!” our congenial host Ralph Edwards asked the former pilot to describe his experience that fateful day.
Wiping sweat from his face he spoke in a NY accent reciting words he had prepared earlier.
“Well Mr. Edwards,” he hesitated nervously. “Just before 8:15 am Tokyo time…the bomb was dropped. We turned fast to get out of the way of the deadly radiation and bomb effects. First was the big flash that we got and then 2 concussion waves hit the ship. Shorly thereafter we turned back to see what had happened, and there, in front of our eyes,the city of Hiroshima disappeared.”
Choking on these last words he put his hand to his forehead to steady himself and repeated what he had written “My God what have we done.”
After the handshake, Mom sat stunned.
No stunt was as ridiculous or as in poor taste than that awkward handshake of victim and perpetrator. It’s tastelessness she felt seemed more appropriate to “Truth or Consequences,” another Ralph Edwards vehicle.
Apparently the U.S. State Department agreed, but for other reasons, and took Lewis to task.
Truth and Consequences
Within days of his appearance on “This is Your Life,” the State Dept. contacted Lewis and reprimanded the former pilot for his lack of patriotism and for showing signs of reservation about the Enola Gay mission and its consequences.
The truth of what he had done sent a depressed and guilt ridden Lewis to be institutionalized by the late 1950s; the tragic consequence was his eventual suicide.
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© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.