Sixty-six years ago today, on August 15, 1945, the long and bloody war with Japan finally came to an end. By a nationwide radio broadcast a little after noon (Japan Standard Time) on that day, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam Declaration.
VJ Day and the end of World War II came when it did largely because of the U.S. dropping two atomic bombs: on Hiroshima on August 6 and on Nagasaki three days later.
Although there were actually more causalities from the firebombing of Tokyo on March 9-10, 1945, than from the bombing of Nagasaki, the instantaneous deaths and devastation caused by “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”, the two atomic bombs, is truly mind-boggling.
Just this year I have learned about the balloon bombs made by the Japanese and sent by wind currents toward the United States, bombs strikingly different from atomic bombs.
You may have known about this before, but I was surprised to learn that in May 1945 a pregnant woman and five children on a church picnic were killed by one of the over 9,000 balloon bombs launched by Japan in 1944-45.
Elsye Mitchell (26) and the five Sunday School students (ages 11-14) from the church in Bly, Oregon, where Elsye’s husband, Archie, was the pastor were the only WWII causalities of U.S. citizens on American soil. (In 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked, Hawaii was not yet a part of the United States.)
Elsye and the children got out of the car in a park on Gearheart Mountain, while Archie drove on to find a parking spot. As they were looking for a good picnic spot, they saw a strange balloon lying on the ground. As the group approached the balloon, a bomb attached to it exploded and Elsye and all five children were killed.
Earlier this summer I read An Ocean Between Us (1994), a most interesting book about the relationship between Japan and a small area in the state of Washington. Evelyn Iritani, the author, is an American woman born to a Japanese-American father and a Japanese mother. In her book she relates four encounters between Japanese and people living in or around Port Angeles, Washington.
One of those stories is about Elyse (Winters) Mitchell, who was from Port Angeles.
Iritani also writes about Reiko Okada, a Japanese girl about the same age as the older children killed in the bomb explosion in Oregon. Reiko worked in a balloon bomb “factory” during the war. Iritani tells movingly about the Japanese people who through the years have expressed sorrow for the deaths caused by the balloon bomb.
There is now a Mitchell Monument erected near the spot of the Oregon tragedy, and several cherry trees have been planted around the monument as a symbol of peace.
Whether it is the deaths of tens of thousands caused by two atomic bombs or the death of just a few by a lone balloon bomb—or whether it is the deaths of people in Japan or Oregon in 1945 or in Afghanistan or Iraq in 2011—the loss of life, and especially of non-combatants, in war is tragic indeed.
Will we humans never learn to co-exist in peace?