As 20 jet-lagged, absentminded Christian college professors and I toured Hiroshima, Japan, this summer, our senses led us to August 6, 1945. We were there on the 68th anniversary of the first dropped atomic bomb, to tour the scars and remnants of a small sun exploded on a city.
We heard our own footsteps scuffling across the T-shaped bridge, the original aiming point for Enola Gay. I viewed the pocket-watch that died at 8:15am, lifted scorched roof tiles in my hands, and saw the lunchbox whose black meal would never get eaten. I saw the dress with burn marks in the shape of characters, as its black dye conducted atomic heat and branded its wearer. I encircled the grassy mound the size of my own backyard that held the bodies of 70,000 people. And I stood in the shadows of the famous Genbaku Dome—the only structure left standing in Hiroshima after the bomb—its hollow palace crowned with melted, twisted metal.
We met Seiko Ikeda, a woman who lived through the horror. She and other survivors are called hibakusha; their last names are now the number of kilometers they stood from detonation. Seiko, 1.6 km, told of the flash, the heat, the rubble, and the bodies. She told of victims who looked fine but were being killed inwardly by radiation. She told of fleeing Hiroshima with her friends. When she paused to look at them, she could not recognize their faces, bloated like pumpkins from the burns. She told us that her own face melted, too, to the point her desperate parents hid all the mirrors in their house. When she finally found a mirror and aligned the glass in her hands, she didn't recognize herself. The clear view of it changed her forever.
Today, as we remember John F. Kennedy's presidential legacy ...