Bay Area residents who experienced Hiroshima firsthand receive reminder
SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - In silence, President Obama laid a wreath in Hiroshima's Peace Park during a solemn and emotional ceremony Friday, marking the first time a sitting U.S. President has set foot in the city destroyed by a U.S. atomic bomb during World War II.
"A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself," President Obama said.
Hundreds of atom bomb survivors live in California and for many of them, the President's historic visit brought back memories of that day.
"I know I cried a lot. That's what I remember," said Seiko Fujimoto of San Francisco who says she was three years old and had just been sent to Hiroshima with her younger brother because her parents felt it was safer than Tokyo.
"I never saw my uncle, my auntie and my cousins. They just left in the morning and then that's it," Fujimoto recalled.
More than 140,000 people were killed in Hiroshima. About 74,000 people were killed days later when the second atomic bomb was dropped in Nagasaki.
U.S. Army veteran Masao Ishikawa of Daly City said he hopes the President's visit brings attention to the horrors of war.
Ishikawa volunteered to join the Army while he and his family were interned in the U.S. Government's Tule Lake concentration camp. As a 22-year-old Army sergeant, he toured the Pacific as an interpreter and was sent to Japan just a few months after the bombs were dropped.
He remembers the sight of the devastation and his search for his mother's sisters who lived near the city.
"First question they asked when I walked up was why did you drop the bomb," Ishikawa said. It was his first time meeting his Japanese relatives, a memory that still brings him to tears.
"I still think of the people that died, especially civilians," Ishikawa said.
President Obama's speech did not include an apology, but he did exchange handshakes and an embrace with atom bomb survivors in Hiroshima.
President Obama also issued a call to disarm.
"Among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them," President Obama said.
Fujimoto says it was important that President Obama saw the Peace Park firsthand, which includes a museum depicting the aftermath from the light of the bomb and the darkness of war.
Fujimoto hopes the President's visit will encourage others to visit the Peace Park and find both healing and hope for the future.
"That's hell and heaven together," Fujimoto said, "if you go to the museum, it's hell, hellish...but once you get out of the building, in the park it's so peaceful, calm, quiet and the children running around with a smile, laughing. Those things are the heaven, exactly the peace in the world there."