|'Maiden' survivor now promotes world peace|
By Michael Daigle, Daily Record
The date rolls off the tongue of Koko Tanimoto Kondo as one word: Augustsixthnineteenfortyfive.
Aug. 6, 1945.
The day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
Ever since, Kondo has been telling the world the story of the Hiroshima Maidens, the young women who were horribly scarred by the atomic blast; the tale of her father, Rev. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, whose story was told in John Hersey's book about the city; and about the spiritual, mental and emotional path she has taken since that day.
Kondo was nine months old, and cradled in her mothers arms that day. They survived the atomic blast when their home, a half-mile from ground zero, collapsed on top of them. Kondo said they crawled out from under the rubble in time to escape the fire that was consuming the city.
Kondo related her harrowing escape and the effects of surviving the blast to a small but emotional audience at Centenary College Wednesday. She is a 1966 graduate of the college and was taking part in the school's International Women's Day Celebration, part of Women's History Month.
Her campus visit was sponsored by the Northwest New Jersey Women's Center of Centenary. Center director Deborah Diamond Fisch said that Kondo's visit enriched the Women's History Month program that focuses this year on issues in current history.
Kondo, 58, is an international spokeswoman for survivors of the Hiroshima blast and has carried their message for peace to many countries, including Russia and Iraq.
In December 1990, she was in Baghdad, the Japan Times reported. She toured an elementary school there where children were drawing anti-American posters, and she said that it reminded her of Japan in the 1940s, the newspaper reported.
"In today's world," with the United States apparently on the brink of war with Iraq, "I pick up the newspaper every day and my heart is broken," Kondo said Wednesday.
Student Liz Gensheimer said she was deeply moved by Kondo's story.
"Just surviving as she did makes me understand how important it is to make sure it never happens again," Gensheimer said. "With war looming, her story makes it clear that war should be the last resort."
Kurtis Start, a junior, said that as an education major, he was very interested in Kondo's experience in Russia, when as a representative of the international group Children as the Peacemakers, she met with Mikhail Gorbachev.
The group presented him with a crystal globe representing the fragile Earth and asked him to take care of it, Korbo recalled. Shortly after that visit, she said, Gorbachev began discussions to reduce Russia's nuclear arsenal.
While it may seem too obvious to say that Korbo's life was forever changed by the bombing of Hiroshima, it is not obvious how those changes played out.
One of her first memories of the aftermath, she said, was that as a child she was comforted by a group of teenage girls.
"I could not see their faces. Their lips were seared to their chins. Their eyes would not close because of the burns," she said.
The girls were among the Hiroshima Maidens, whose cause her father championed.
When she was in junior high school, Korbo said, she was being treated at a Japanese hospital that was studying the effect of radiation on humans.
One day she was asked to enter a room, and when she did, bright lights blinded her. She could hear voices speaking different languages and guessed that she was on stage at an international convention of doctors.
She was asked to disrobe. Extremely embarrassed, she stood on the stage covered only by a tiny cloth as she was examined from a distance by people she could not see.
"I said to God, 'Take me away.' He was not listening to my prayer," Korbo said.
It would be years before she admitted to anyone again that she was a Hiroshima survivor.
In 1955, her father's work brought the family to New York City and to a soundstage where the television show, "This is Your Life," was being filmed.
Guests on that program included Capt. Robert Lewis, the co-pilot on the B-29 plane Enola Gay that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
Korbo was 10. This was the man responsible for her home's destruction.
"I was in shock. I was thinking, 'What can I do?'" she said. "I had told myself that I would give him a big punch to revenge this."
Instead, Korbo said, she heard Lewis say on the television program that he looked back at the city as the plane pulled away and wrote in his log, "My God, what have we done?"
"I saw his tears and felt so bad," she said. "I hated this guy. I wanted to hit him in the gut. He was evil. I was a 10-year-old girl."
After the show, Korbo said she went up to Lewis and held his hand. "The war ended for me then," she said.
"I had only known one side of sorrow," she said. "Now I knew that those on the airplane were suffering, too."
Later, when she learned about his death, she heard that he had made a sculpture of a mushroom cloud with one tear.
Korbo said she learned Lewis was not evil, but that only war is evil.