I am an active member of Vietnam Vets Against War, Annapolis grad, retired civil rights attorney, and author of an inspirational memoir, who changed my path as soon as I could once I realized how immoral and obnoxious the Vietnam War had become. As a navigator of a US warship, the USS Oak Hill (LSD-7), I navigated 300 marines to Vietnam where our ship stayed on station for six months supporting the war effort. Immediately after the Vietnam period I navigated our ship to Hong Kong and then Japan where I had spent two years attending an American high school in Yokohama when my father, a WWII hero, was a Commander in the Navy assigned to the Yokosuka Naval base. After visiting the city where I lived, Kamakura, I decided to take a train to Hiroshima where I felt my anti-war sentiments would find a place to ponder what my future might be once my commitment was over in about a year. That impetus I recorded in a memoir I wrote called All the Difference, that showed how I changed from a pawn in the military to a crusader for justice as a civil rights lawyer for the poor and powerless.Here is an excerpt of that experience that I want to share for the 70 th anniversary of the horrendous bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
I navigated the Oakhill to Hong Kong, where I wandered the streets for a day, amazed at the bustling beauty of an island with skyscrapers piercing the sky and shopping centers with tailors fitting customers with silk and other fine materials. I followed some officers from our ship to a team of tailors who fitted me with the best fabrics for suits, sport coats, ties, and dress shirts. Rugged mountains covered the background populated by millions of Chinese in a diverse British city. I had never seen so many sampans and makeshift vessels tied together along wharfs shaping a village of thousands of poor boat people.
A ferry boat took me past these water-bound wharf villages to Macau, then under communist rule. A taxi driver motored me to a Mao Tse Tung school. High school students shouted slogans, marched, and waved red flags. He told me if we drove near them they would kill me if they knew an American naval officer rode in his vehicle. Gambling casinos decked out with roulette wheels, card sharks, bartenders, dancing girls, lavish carpets and accommodations overwhelmed with a gambling crowd of rich professionals and tourists. Since time was short, I jumped on the ferry to Hong Kong to my hotel. The next day my clothes were ready to pick up and bring back to the ship.
Our next port, Yokosuka, Japan, was where I had lived as a teenager. The base PX provided me an opportunity to buy gifts for my friend Yoshio Suzuki’s family in Kamakura. His boy enjoyed the baseball glove and girl a doll I had purchased on the base along with a fifth of Jack Daniels for his Dad who still ran a milk factory there. While there, I visited Enoshima and was shocked by its change. Waves still crashed on the rocks and the sound of the surf mingled with the shore, but there were no crabs or fish in the tide pools. They were inundated with dirt from the excavation that created the bridges, roadway, and souvenir shops that dotted the way. Escalators snaked to a slick modern observation tower while shrill pop music wafted across the island from the multitude of restaurants and shops constructed in the recent past. Horn honking replaced the natural sounds that had refreshed me on my first visit. Exhaust fumes choked me when in the past only ocean spray and sunlight danced on the rocks and natural pathways of the revered island. Neither the magnificent hawks nor Mount Fuji were visible through the smog. A two lane road lead to an escalator that reached a modern observation room after we passed tourist shops and restaurants that blared music and commercials where once stood a sacred island sanctuary. Crowds shoved and filled the pathways. How dismal progress made this once peaceful ancient shrine.
A train swept me off to Hiroshima where I saw a film of the devastation caused by the first atomic bomb ever dropped on human beings at the shrine to the dead. Seeing the effects of that enormous blast on human beings haunted me. The photographs of the victims etched the atrocity against humanity graphically in my brain no matter what the justification. The statistics baffled my mind. By the end of the war, atomic bombs killed about 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki. Most of the casualties were civilians. Many died slowly from radiation sickness so these statistics understate the deaths. At the museum was a reference from an eye witness:
“Towards evening, a light, southerly wind blowing across the city
wafted to us an odor suggestive of burning sardines. I wondered
what could cause such a smell until somebody, noticing it too,
informed me that sanitation teams were cremating the remains of
people who had been killed. Looking out, I could discern numerous
fires scattered about the city. Previously I had assumed the fires
were caused by burning rubble. Towards Nigitsu was an especially
large fire where the dead were being burned by hundreds. Suddenly
to realize that these fires were funeral pyres made me shudder, and
I became a little nauseated. 8 Aug 1945 by Michihiko Hachiya.”
A memorial book at the shrine to the dead contains my statement that as a patriotic American who had grown to love the Japanese people, to see what horror we caused them with the dropping of atomic bombs made a lasting impression of extreme sorrow. I hoped no country would ever use atomic or nuclear weapons in the future. I walked to a carved stone in Hiroshima Peace Park called the Memorial Cenotaph and read the words: “Let all souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.”