History is being made in Hiroshima today.
Over 70 years after an Atomic blast ushered us into the nuclear age, President Barack Obama is visiting that very city where over 140,000 people died. The president will not apologize for the bombing nor second guess our decision to use nuclear weapons.
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.
A Blast From the Past
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
May 11, 1955
As the mother of a newborn, my harried Mom had very little free time.
Wednesday nights were the one hour of relaxation for her all week, so along with 40 million other TV viewers my exhausted Mother looked forward to watching “This is your Life.”
The catchy gimmick of this long running show which began its life on radio was that the amiable host Ralph Edwards would surprise Mr. or Mrs. Average American by informing them they were on national television. Guests were surprised with a presentation of their past life in the form of a narrative read by Edwards and reminisces by relatives and friends. For that extra zip the same stunt could be pulled on celebrities too.
A perpetually smiling Edwards would reveal the subject’s life story with the assistance of a huge leather-bound This is Your Life scrapbook.
The absolute highlight of the show was the appearance of the “mystery guest” and the water works would begin giving credence to the shows nickname as the “weepiest show on TV.”
Hiroshima Hits Home
Now with the dishes washed, laundry folded, and baby bottles sterilizing in the electric sterilizer patiently awaiting refill of tomorrow’s formula, Mom could sit back, relax and give me my evening feeding.
She settled in with a soothing cigarette in one hand, my bottle in the other, and a box of tissues at the ready, just as the music for “This is Your Life” began.
According to the TV Guide tonight’s episode featured Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
We May have a little Surprise for You
A strange ticking noise was heard, as the familiar theme music faded way… TICK… TICK…
Clutching a leather book, the congenial host, Ralph Edwards, beamed as he turned to the camera looking straight out at us, and said:
“Good Evening ladies and gentleman and welcome to This is Your Life. The ticking you hear in the background is a clock counting off the seconds to eight fifteen in the morning, August 6 1945”… TICK… TICK… TICK …
My attention shifted from the bottle to the loud, regular, heart- beat- like sound, so familiar, so personal a sound …TICK… TICK… TICK… Mom tried to get me to resume drinking but I was fixated by the reassuring sound…. TICK… TICK …TICK ….
“And seated here with me”, Edwards continued “is a gentleman whose life was changed by the last tick of the clock as it reached 8:15. Good evening sir,” Edwards said turning to the gentleman, smiling as graciously as a maitre de, “Would you tell us your name?”.. TICK…TICK…TICK…
“Kiyoshi Tanimoto: answered the somewhat confused looking Asian gentleman, unsure of why he was there…. TICK… TICK… TICK…
“And where is your home” Edwards asked, as kindly as Santa Claus might ask a boy what he wants for Xmas.
“Hiroshima Japan”, the Japanese fellow answered, looking extremely uncomfortable, as small beads of perspiration appeared on his perplexed countenance.
“And where,” our hospitable host innocently inquired, “were you on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 in the morning?”
Poor Reverend Tanimoto had no chance to answer.
The ticking grew LOUDER and LOUDER, and I began to cry, scared by the sound, now less familiar and more frightening …
TICK… TICK… TICK….
As my screams became louder Mom picked me up and walked me around when suddenly there was an uproar coming from the TV set with the sound of kettle drums… BOOM… BOOM… BOOM…….KABOOMMM…….. and I let out a piercing cry!
“This is Hiroshima” Ralph Edwards said.
Mom’s gentle rocking presence was dwarfed by a phallic-looking-mushroom shaped cloud that grew on our TV screen and I was as fixated by that image as I was by the sounds.
“…and in that fateful second on August 6, 1945 a new concept of life and death was given its baptism,” Edwards concluded solemnly.
And at that moment I was baptized in a pool of fear that would be my constant companion for the rest of my life.
A mushroom cloud would hang over my dreams haunting my future.
More surprises would be in store for Reverend Tanimoto.
Civil Defense is Your Best Defense
Wednesday nights were a rare night of relaxation for my mother.
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. Shortly 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.
Today Obama says he plans to “honor all those who were lost in WWII and reaffirm our shred vision of a world without nuclear weapons.”
Have we learned any lessons from this atomic attack?
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2016. 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.