Lehigh Valley region ties to Hiroshima on 60th anniversary (Lehigh Valley Live)

August 6, 2015

By Kurt Bresswein  

Editor’s note: The article from which the following excerpt is taken was originally published Aug. 7, 2005, in The Express-Times. 

Distance was just the beginning of what separated Joseph F. Finn Sr. and Koko Tanimoto Kondo on Aug. 6,  1945.

Finn was an 18-year-old U.S. Marine whose unit was on Guam training for the assault on the Japanese mainland.

Tanimoto was 1,630 miles north, an 8-month-old living in the parsonage of the Hiroshima Methodist church, shepherded by her father, the Rev. Kiyoshi Tanimoto.

The atomic bomb dropped that day set in motion Japan’s surrender. Some say it put an end to World War II before more brutal battles could take place.

Finn would go home, start a family and live as a proud war veteran in Plainfield Township.

Koko Tanimoto Kondo would survive lingering pain from the blast and dedicate her life to pursuing peace. Her journey brought her to Hackettstown, where she graduated from Centenary College in 1966.

Hiroshima was leveled in the bombing, and an estimated 140,000 Japanese died. Three days later, a second bomb destroyed Nagasaki, claiming 80,000 lives.

Sixty years later, the spread of nuclear technology has stirred action to avoid a repeat of such unprecedented carnage.

“Luckily – and I say that emphatically – the bomb was dropped and it saved a hell of a lot of American lives and more Japanese lives also, ” said Finn,  a 78-year-old father of two with four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“I guess it was about 3 o’clock in the morning. All hell broke loose when we heard that the bomb had been dropped,  the first bomb. Hell,  it was an impromptu party. It was guys in their skivvies running around,  they were just so damn happy.”

All Finn and his fellow Marines knew was that it was “a new weapon,  a big bomb,  and it had done so much damage.”

“Atomic” was not a word they heard at first,  nor a word they knew anything about.

What the men stationed on the captured islands around Japan did know was that before the bomb they had been facing a special hell,  bound to be bloodier than the campaigns for Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Saipan and all the other jump-off points across the Pacific Ocean they had fought at great cost to secure.

Daniel J. Flynn

World War II veteran Daniel J. Flynn, 90, of Palmer Township, died in 2007. (Courtesy photo | For lehighvalleylive.com)


Daniel J. Flynn, 88, was another Marine in the region. Assigned to arm airplanes, Flynn was on Okinawa. He compared his vision of what the Japanese had in store for them to the insurgents wreaking havoc in Iraq. 

“They had a lot of guys trained, Japan did, as kamikaze pilots, ” said Flynn, of Palmer Township. “If we would have landed in Japan, those same guys would have done with explosives what the terrorists are doing now.”

The Japanese made no overtures of surrender as the American military closed in.

“They showed nothing about giving up or anything,” Finn recalled. “And Lord knows how many lives it would have cost.

“The Marine Corps at that time had six divisions: Three divisions for one invasion and three for a second invasion. They were going to invade Japan on two different places. They were going to split us up. That might have been the end of the Marine Corps as we know it.”

As Aug. 6 neared, a strange optimism gripped Okinawa, Flynn recalled.

“I can recall all of a sudden things got very quiet on Okinawa, ” Flynn said. “And the rumors started to go around that the war was going to be over in another week or so, and nobody that I know of knew anything about the atomic bomb or the B-29 that was going to carry it. But sure enough, that’s what happened.”

The Enola Gay B-29 Superfortress flew out of Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands chain near Guam. Its payload was “Little Boy,” the first atomic bomb deployed in war. U.S. scientists had just tested an atomic bomb, called simply “The Gadget, ” weeks earlier,  on July 16,  1945.

Another B-29, nicknamed “Bockscar,” dropped the “Fat Man” bomb Aug. 9 on Nagasaki.

Koko Tanimoto Kondo

Koko Tanimoto Kondo, who would go on to graduate from Centenary College, was eight months old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. (Courtesy photo | For lehighvalleylive.com)


Tanimoto met the Enola Gay’s pilot, Capt. Robert Lewis, in 1955 on the television show “This Is Your Life.” Her father, one of six Hiroshima survivors featured in John Hersey’s book, “Hiroshima, ” was among the guests.

After years of childhood filled with thoughts of revenge against the pilots who had dropped the bomb, Tanimoto was “shocked” to see Lewis cry about what he had done, she recalled in a March 2003 visit to Centenary College. That moment, on a Hollywood television stage, started her push for peace.

Now 60, Tanimoto speaks about her Hiroshima experience at schools, colleges, churches, temples, gatherings of medical doctors and lawyers, and communities around the world. She also leads children in calling for world peace through the “Children as the Peacemakers” organization.

Tanimoto also works to find homes in Japan and the United States for abandoned Japanese children. Her own family was transferred to Hiroshima’s Nagarakawa United Church of Japan a year before the bombing. Their parsonage was 1.1 kilometers, or about 0.68 miles, from the center of the blast. Her mother had carried her under the house as warnings of the incoming attack spread.

Still clutching her daughter after the devastation, her mother clawed through the wreckage of her home to the relative safety overhead.

In a recent e-mail to The Express-Times, Tanimoto said she was told she suffered a very high fever and bloody diarrhea after what she calls “the disaster.”

“I was told by my parents that doctors said that I could not live longer,” she wrote.

She developed ocular lesions on her eyes, known as atomic-bomb cataracts, 35 years ago. “Except that I think I am all right for right now, ” she said.

Tanimoto’s memories of growing up are those of the townspeople rebuilding her father’s church and Hiroshima’s homes.

“I was there to see the city reconstructing little by little,” Tanimoto said. “And I saw many people who were disfigured, such as the external wounds and burns by the blast, and many children who were orphaned by the disaster.”

The atomic destruction awed John H. “Jack” Price, now 80. He pulled into Nagasaki aboard the USS Coghlan, the destroyer that carried the young radio operator his entire time in the Navy. It was just days after Emperor Hirohito had surrendered on Aug. 14, 1945. Price toured the area aboard a 20-ton Army truck.

“Buildings just blown out,” Price remembers. “It’s like flooding or hurricanes or typhoons” – he pauses, making swishing noises like a scythe cutting through grass – “just wiped everything out. There wasn’t anything standing. All rubble. All rubble.”

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Two more American vessels – relief and hospital ships – were already in the harbor. The Coghlan was there as a show of force.

People lined both shorelines of the channel. Price, of Pen Argyl, and his shipmates went in at battle station ready. They had come to know the Japanese military through the kamikaze pilots whose dive attacks made them the suicide bombers of the early 1940s.

“Some people were fortunate to get underground far enough, I mean in like an air raid shelter, ” Price said. “I don’t know what they did, but there were people milling around. A whole lot of people. Like I said, when we went in the channel, the shorelines were lined heavy with Japanese.

“When you had dreamed and had known all those crazy suicide people, kamikazes, what were these people like on the shores? Could they have been a kamikaze?

“If you’re brainwashed that much, you know, you don’t know what you’re going to do.”

The residents’ response was more unpredictable than Price had imagined. They bowed, he said.

Edmond “Curly” Sears, 81, of Pohatcong Township, spent four months in Hiroshima starting in September 1945. An Army aviation engineer, his wartime job was to build runways on islands across the Pacific Ocean,  including the Philippines and on New Guinea.

After Japan’s surrender, Sears was assigned to begin clearing the rubble. Each morning, he’d drive his 4-ton dump truck to the city’s labor pool, pick up an interpreter and 10 or 12 Japanese men and go to work.

“They’d shovel it in,” Sears said. “I’d back up the truck to the canal and dump it out.”

“You wouldn’t believe it,” Sears said of the devastation. He has scrapbooks of photos he shot showing twisted metal and piles of concrete chunks spread across a flattened wasteland. He keeps the images with other memorabilia: autographed photos of Japanese actresses, a postcard found in a Japanese foxhole, records of his service – the same records any World War II vet can easily find at home.

The human cost is what Sears most vividly remembers of his assignment.

“It killed 70,000 in one shot and 100,000 died from leukemia,  from the atomics, ” Sears said. “And what did survive were burnt. And then some of them were blinded.”

Sears’ most painful souvenir was a bout with Hodgkin’s disease in the mid-1980s. “Absolutely” is how sure he is his time in Hiroshima caused the cancer. He fought colon cancer two years ago as well.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were rebuilt much the same as they had been. Bethlehem resident Bob Brown visited Hiroshima in 1989. He and his wife Madeline are members of the Sister City Commission linking Bethlehem to Tondabayashi which, along with Hiroshima,  is on the main Japanese island of Honshu.

The Browns’ visit to Hiroshima came during their stay in Matsuyama, on the island of Shikoku. They were there through a friendship exchange program run by Rotary International.

Brown found Hiroshima nearly indistinguishable from other Japanese cities he had toured.

“Japanese cities are not like their crafts and their room design, their furniture design, which is very meticulous, ” he said. “Japanese cities are a hodgepodge. There’s not a lot of notable architecture and almost no notable planning.

“We thought, ‘Well it’s a new city since the terrible bombing.’ They had a clean slate to work with.

“It looked like every other Japanese city except the famous monument to the bombing, ” he said. “That’s the one big landmark, and they are spending money to keep that alive.”

The landmark is called the Atomic Dome. It is the unrestored bombed-out ruin of the Hiroshima Commerce Exhibition Hall. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is nearby.

“One of the surprises we got there was that they were very matter of fact in the way they presented things,” Brown said. “It’s graphic. They give a great deal of detail on the people who were injured and killed. It’s just shattering.”

Inscribed on a Memorial Cenotaph in the park, according to Tanimoto, is “Let All The Souls Here Rest in Peace; For We Shall Not Repeat The Evil.”

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A cenotaph is a monument or empty tomb honoring persons whose remains are elsewhere.

“I would like everyone to come to Hiroshima and stand in front of this cenotaph to read it, and take it for your words,” Tanimoto wrote The Express-Times. “This inscription concerns the past, the present and the future of the human race, not of a particular individual.”

Kurt Bresswein may be reached at kbresswein@lehighvalleylive.com. Follow him on Twitter @KurtBresswein. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.

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