University nuclear conference features Hiroshima survivor

Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2008

Shigeko Sasamori knows exactly where she was at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

At the time, she was a 13-year-old girl living in Hiroshima, Japan. The government had ordered some houses to be knocked down in order to widen some of the city's streets, and Sasamori was tasked to be on part of the clean up crew.

August 6 was supposed to be her first day on the job.

Before work started, Sasamori was standing next to her friend when she noticed an American plane flying over the city in front of a clear blue sky backdrop.

She saw a white object falling from the plane about a mile away from where she was standing, and told her friend to look up.

At that moment, at quarter-past eight, the atomic bomb named "Little Boy" dropped from an American bomber detonated.

Sasamori said there was no blinding light, just a sensation of immense pressure that knocked her to the ground unconscious.

When she woke up, Sasamori's world, as well as the rest of the world, was changed.

"Little Boy" was the first of two atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of World War II. The bomb took an estimated tens of thousands of lives and marked an early stage of the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Sasamori barely survived being so close to the bomb when it detonated. She was badly burned and spent five days drifting in and out of consciousness before her parents found her. Her face at the time was so disfigured that her parents couldn't tell the front of her head from the back.

Now 75, the petite, energetic Sasamori campaigns world-wide for nuclear disarmament and was a speaker at the University of Alaska Southeast's Nuclear Awareness Conference this weekend.

The three-day conference also featured speakers from the Marshall Islands, where the U.S. tested some of its nuclear bombs after the war.

Though Sasamori said she hopes people hearing her story will see how "only crazy people" would peruse building nuclear bombs, she said her message is more about peace and human interconnectedness.

"I think basically peace is, (to) care for other people," Sasamori said.

• Contact reporter Alan Sudermanat 523-2268 or e-mail

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