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Koko Kondo reads from the John Hersey book "Hiroshima"

Photo courtesy of: International Student and Faculty Services

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Koko Kondo receives passion flower as a gift from International Student and Faculty Services

Photo courtesy of: International Student and Faculty Services

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Koko Kondo tells story of growing up in Hiroshima after atomic bomb


Koko Kondo, the youngest survivor of the World War II nuclear bomb attack in Hiroshima, Japan, brought a message of peace and love on Monday night during her keynote speech that kicked off Ohio University's 2012 International Week celebration.

After Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis delivered the opening remarks to the audience of more than 300, Chris Thompson, the chair of Ohio University's Linguistics Department, introduced Kondo to the audience while showing pictures of her interacting with his college students during visits to Japan.

During her talk, Kondo reminisced about growing up in a devastated Hiroshima, Japan, after the United States dropped the bomb on Aug. 6, 1945, killing approximately 200,000 people. Her family's home was about a mile from the site where the bomb was dropped.

Although she was only eight-months-old during the bombing, Kondo recalled many of the good and bad times while growing up in Hiroshima. She recalled not being able to talk about the bomb with her parents as a child; she described some of the disfigured people, and she remembered developing a hatred for the pilots of the airplane that dropped the bomb.

One of her most vivid recollections traces back to May 1955. It was then that Kondo, 10, met one of the pilots, U.S. Army Capt. Robert A. Lewis, on a popular TV show, "This is Your Life." She said her hate was surprisingly diffused when she saw a man who was obviously regretful for what he had done.

Kondo said Lewis told the TV show's host, Ralph Edwards, that he didn't know that the airplane contained an atomic bomb – he just knew it was a bomb. She also discovered that Lewis had written in his flight log after seeing the destruction on Hiroshima, "Oh my God, what have we done."

Kondo said she touched Lewis' hand that day and it was warm. She said, "I saw tears come from his eyes. This guy was a human being. I shouldn't hate him."

She said she now regrets that she didn't see Lewis again before he died in 1983, but she admits that the face-to-face meeting with him changed her life.

The 67-year-old Kondo also described her days as a test subject at the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Hiroshima shortly after the bombing. She described the day she was asked to take off her clothes in a large room so that doctors from all over the world could study how her body was affected by the bomb's radiation.

She said that painful and embarrassing incident made her reluctant to tell anyone for many years that she was from Hiroshima, and it led her to attend high school in Tokyo and college in the United States.

Kondo also shared how she came to realize that her father, Kiyoshi Tanimoto, was a good and caring man who loved his family. Although he served as a Methodist Church minister for more than 40 years, she didn't appreciate the fact that he would sometimes leave the family for years at a time after the bombing. She said he traveled around the world to help the survivors of the bomb and to promote peace.

She said the moment of clarity about her father's love for the family came during his last sermon at his church in Japan.
 
"He said that he was only concerned about his family after the bomb hit, and his resentment sent him to work in the peace movement," Kondo said. "That was when I realized that I had a good father. I remember him telling me to always work for Hiroshima."

Siobahn Herring, a senior linguistics major from Dayton, Ohio, said she was excited to see Kondo in person after hearing so much about her from Thompson in class.

"I wanted to hear her story," Herring said. "Before today, Sensei Thompson told us what she would be talking about, but what she had to say was amazing. It was really touching. She definitely brought a message of peace."

Kondo ended her talk by offering some words of encouragement for the students in the audience while wiping tears from her face.

"You are my children," Kondo said. "I want you to live in peace. I can't change the world, but you can make this a better world."

The talk was sponsored by the Ki-Chul Andrew Jung International Week Endowment Fund, the Student Activities Commission (SAC), International Student Union (ISU),International Student and Faculty Services (ISFS) and the Office of Education Abroad (OEA).

For more information about International Week, click here.