Secret City and Its Song (Part 2 of 3)

If you’ve wondered about the connection between my mother and Oak Ridge, TN mentioned in Part 1 ( and I hope you did 🙂 ) here is Part 2…

I’m embarrassed to admit, I didn’t know that the U.S. Government (USG) founded Oak Ridge as a Manhattan Project site to enrich uranium for the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. I knew about the Manhattan Project of course, but always associated it with New York City, Washington(state), and New Mexico. Yup, Oak Ridge lived up to its Secret City code name! 😊 In case I’m not alone, here’s a brief summary of the Secret City:

  •  1939 U.S. learned Germany might be developing a new “extremely powerful bomb” AND President Roosevelt set the Advisory Committee on Uranium in motion
  •  June 1940 Hitler invaded Paris AND the United States National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) formed

  •  July 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union AND the NDRC, became the Office of Scientific Research &Development (OSRD) & began studying uranium enrichment with Columbia University.

  •  December 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, U.S. formally entered WWII, & President Roosevelt authorized OSRD for atomic weapon production.

wheat fields and construction (Copyright K-25 Virtual Museum)

The USG wanted inexpensive land tucked away in a relatively unpopulated, unknown area to build their 2 million square foot facility (known as K-25). The small Wheat Community (pop. 1,000) fit the bill with its 60,000 acres of farmland nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. USG hired employees, built dormitories for the workers, and eventually brought in prefab homes for them. Many of the initial workers were women (most men away fighting in WWII) who operated calutrons (device enriching uranium by separating isotopes). It wasn’t called Secret City just for the location. People who worked and lived in this gated community were explicitly told not to discuss their occupation and they only knew information pertaining to their specific job. No one (except some of the scientists) knew the final product/purpose of the facility. Sadly, many of the workers also died as a result of radiation they were exposed to at K-25*.

Copyright K-25 Museum

Okay, so once I knew all that, I can honestly admit that I initially had a pit in my stomach. Would they accept me or my mother’s story? How would I feel being there? But the more I thought about it, my message has always been not only to show why nuclear weapons should never be used again, but to also tell the human side of the story. I do not discuss TLCB and my mother’s experience for the sake of blaming anyone. My mother said that “war is hellish for both sides”.  My hope is that readers/students will see the connection we have with other human beings, that leaders and the fanatics of other countries do not define all the citizens of that country. In addition to writing about my mother surviving the atomic bombing, I wanted to make an emotional connection while correcting some misinformation about Japanese citizens during WWII. That’s why I wrote about the culture, family life, and mindset during WWII through my mother’s 12-year-old eyes.

Mom & family’s back yard in Hiroshima. (Copyright K.Burkinshaw)

I have great respect for the people who did their patriotic duty by working at K-25 and Hanford. Telling my mother’s story about her family (and mine) in Hiroshima, does not in any way vilify the K-25 or Hanford workers nor does it diminish the important work they did for the U.S. war effort. Both stories can co-exist without dishonoring the other and each deserves to be heard.

Oak Ridge workers, Copyright K-25 Virtual Museum

Hanford Washington copyright atomicheritage.org

 

 

 

The kindness and compassion from the Oak Ridge/Knoxville students, teachers, and the librarians I met touched my heart. Find out how a song of peace connects Oak Ridge, TN to Japan in my 3rd and final blog post of this series tomorrow….

Peace Dove,a gift from Episcopal School of Knoxville, TN

 

*Again, this is only a very brief summary. Please visit http://k-25virtualmuseum.org/index.html for more details about the Secret City.

Also sharing this post at Welcome Heart, Let’s Have Coffee

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Melton Lake Park, Oak Ridge

Secret City and Its Song

Melton Lake Park, Oak Ridge

Melton Lake Park, Oak Ridge

I had been wanting to write about my visit in May with the amazing students, school librarians, and teachers in the Oak Ridge, TN schools for a couple months now. But my father passed away and my pain flare ups prevented me from writing this until now. Because I didn’t want to have one really long post, I’ve divided it into three parts, with the 2nd posting tomorrow, and the last posting on Thursday ( I know, 3 in a row-you will probably never see me do that again 🙂 ). While writing about my Oak Ridge school visits, I read an article about a Japanese exchange student in the state of Washington, that I wanted to use as my introduction…

Back in May, a Japanese exchange student, Nonoka Koga, made headlines in US and Japanese newspapers. Ms. Koga spent the school year at Richland High School in Richland, Washington. She made news’ headlines because she spoke out about the school’s logo (the capital letter R over a mushroom cloud) and popular chant (“Proud of the Cloud”). Richland is near the town of Hanford – one of the locations for the Manhattan project and where they enriched the plutonium used in the atomic bomb, Fat Man, dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Nonoka Koga is from Fukuoka, Japan. But her grandparents lived about 30 miles from the town of Kokura which was the intended target for the atomic bomb that day. However, since it was a cloudy day in Kokura, her grandparents were spared and Nagasaki with clearer skies became the target city and over 80,000 people killed.

At the end of the school year, Ms. Koga wanted to give her thoughts on the logo and cheer. With the help of the photography teacher she made her comments on the short 3 ½ minute school morning announcements on Richland High’s YouTube channel Atomic TV.

Ms. Koga explained that she didn’t want them to change their logo/mascot, but to help them with another perspective about what that cloud represents. “…after the explosion the cloud is basically made up of things that the bomb destroyed…I’m here today because it was a cloudy day.”

As the daughter of a Hiroshima survivor knowing how much my mother suffered and lost under one of those famous mushroom clouds, I do wish that they would change their logo and chant. I understand the pride the school has for the Hanford workers who were doing their patriotic duty. I have no issue with that. What I take issue with is celebrating something that killed members of my family, innocent women, children, and the elderly. Perpetuating an insensitive chant dehumanizes the many innocents who suffered in the bombing. This is why the stories of the survivors need to be told so that the students/teachers can understand why people like myself find the logo and the chant offensive. I don’t feel that they are using this logo/chant to be cruel, they just may not understand what the mushroom cloud represents. (I want to make it clear that I do not find the students, teachers, or citizens offensive.)

If I can explain the damage, the loss, the death under that cloud, then students can understand what could happen to their loved ones, if events were reversed, and ultimately come to an understanding that no family should ever have to live through that again. Ignoring the effects of the bombing on the innocent confounds and angers me. We can/should be proud of the work Hanford citizens did for their country but not proud of the death and destruction a nuclear bomb caused. Both stories can co-exist with respect and peace. I know that because I experienced that first-hand just a few months ago when I visited another Manhattan Project site- The Secret City of Oak Ridge TN.

When I found out that the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL) nominated The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB) for the Volunteer State Book Award, I did my chair happy dance 🙂  Scot Smith, Media Specialist at Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge, TN invited me to speak about TLCB and my mother surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to four middle schools in Oak Ridge and surrounding towns. I looked forward to my first chance connecting with students, in person, at Tennessee schools (I’ve Skyped with TN schools). I had no idea just how connected my mother’s story would be to that city. But, more on that tomorrow…

I’M HERE

My daughter arrived home Sunday from college for her Christmas break. As her roommate’s car turned onto our street, I received a text of two words, “I’m here.” I had been waiting to see those words all morning. Once she was home, Christmas season for me, would begin. I’m sadly aware that this may be the last time she’ll spend the week before Christmas with us and wanted it to be memorable.

So, her text message flipped the switch on Christmas, I didn’t have to wait any longer. Advent had started nearly 4 weeks ago, and I continued to wait for some way to feel peace, even though I had extra pain (physical and emotional), been missing my mom, my loved ones who used to be around the dining table of Christmas pasts, and struggling for some creative spark. I recently found a picture that made me realize that my attempt to wait and look for it failed because the main source of peace had been here all along-even before Advent.

When I was 8-years-old, I received the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, not only on the same day, but on Christmas day! The reason why I hadn’t been baptized yet and finding my church would take another blog post. 🙂 I knew it would be a special day for so many reasons. My parents were elated as well, but let me tell you, finding a white first communion dress in December? Not easy! But, the very last store we went to (Ann and Hope outlet-which hasn’t been around for a while now), had, ONE dress! A blessing that it also fit me! As for the veil, we ended up at a local bridal store (my daughter would wear this same veil many years later for her First Communion). I remember saying to Father Dean (assistant pastor, that my family greatly admired),” Now, I would have Jesus in my life”. He smiled and said, “While these sacraments are very important, you don’t have to wait for Jesus to be a part of your life. He was with you before you were born, loving you, and waiting on you.” (You can see why we admired him so).

I didn’t think much of the profound meaning of his words over my teen years. But in these last five years I experienced personal losses-some expected and some not-in fact, the very church that I celebrated my baptism/first communion that Christmas day and 14 years later, my wedding (also officiated by beloved Fr. Dean) closed a few months ago. I found myself pondering his words during this Advent. I realized the blessing of people in my life that got me through those heart wrenching times-especially the times that I didn’t have a clue how I would move on,were all moments when Jesus was with me.

I just needed to open my eyes, choose to open the door of my heart, and let him in. I needed to be reminded to trust that joy prevails. Hope and peace filled moments (OK,sometimes nanoseconds), exist even with the uncertainties in my life. In the quiet early hours of morning when I cannot sleep because my body feels like one big throbbing blob of pain, I retreat to our family room. I flip the light switch illuminating the lights on our tree that casts a glow on the Manger my parents gave us for our first married Christmas and on the one that my daughter made out of clay in elementary school, and hear his promise-“I’m here.”

Wishing you all a joyful holiday season and many moments of a peace filled New Year! ❤

Also sharing my post at Welcome Heart.

Bringing a Peace of Hiroshima to North Carolina

At the home I grew up in, a stately evergreen tree towered over our front yard. This pine tree gave shade every summer. It’s the spot where my father would sit while he made sure my best friend and I did not drown in the pool that we spent hours in-until my friend’s lips would literally turn blue. 🙂

It’s the spot where we all sat on a swing while the smoke from the mosquito coils (remember those?) swirled around us as we ate watermelon or ice cream at the end of a fun- filled summer day. I treasure these childhood memories.

Sadly, some years later, that majestic evergreen had to come down-I don’t quite remember why. The front yard looked so lonely with just a grounded stump in the middle. My mom decided to fill that void with a graceful Japanese Maple sapling. She loved the idea of having a tree that reminded her of the ones in the yard of her Hiroshima home.

This stroll down memory lane, leads me to the event I alluded to in my last blog posts. Since my novel, The Last Cherry Blossom, introduces readers to the culture of Japan in the last year of WWII, I wanted to bring Hiroshima to the state I’m living in when my book published. Last year I found a program called Green Legacy Hiroshima, which was started by two friends: Nassrine Azimi and Tomoko Watanabe. Green Legacy Hiroshima is under the umbrella of the United Nations Institute of Training and Research (UNITAR).

Green Legacy Hiroshima(GLH) cultivates and sends seeds from trees that miraculously survived the atomic bombing on August 6th, also known as A-bomb trees. When we visited Hiroshima two years ago, we viewed these trees and it was a remarkable sight to behold.

GLH has sent seeds to 30 countries to be cultivated into saplings that would then be planted in memory of the victims of nuclear weapons and to spread the message of peace. Currently in the United states, only six states have these saplings. North Carolina will now become the 7th state. (In the future, I’d really like to work on having an A-bomb tree planted in Rhode Island. It is the state I grew up in, and is the first state my mom moved to when she came to the United States and lived in for over 50 years before moving to NC in 2013).

So, in late 2015, I contacted Nassrine Azimi and discussed my wish to partner with GLH and a university in North Carolina to plant a sapling from an A-bomb tree. In July 2016, she connected me with a couple in Atlanta, Georgia (Steve and Elizabeth Leeper) that had nurtured a Ginkgo sapling. This would save time and paperwork normally needed to procure and quarantine the seeds that arrive from Japan. I’m very grateful for the elimination of that process. My husband and I drove to Atlanta last July and picked up the sapling.

The A-Bomb sapling grown from seeds of Mother Ginkgo tree to be planted at UNCW

http://www.lang-arts.com/survivors/shukkeien.html

The Mother Ginkgo tree at Shukkeien Gardens after atomic bomb.

http://www.lang-arts.com/survivors/shukkeien.html

Mother Ginkgo tree today,Shukkeien Garden

My daughter, Sara, attends the University of North Carolina, Wilmington(UNCW) and is minoring in Japanese. It seemed like a great fit. I contacted the coordinator of the Japanese Minor and Senior Lecturer of Japanese at UNCW, Kano-sensei. She loved this idea as well and would work with me to make this happen.

This past spring semester, Sara joined the newly formed Japan Club at UNCW. She discussed having a fundraiser for the dedication plaque for this Hiroshima A-bomb tree. The Japan Club jumped on her idea and set up fundraisers within a week. The Japan Club, with the help of some other donors had raised the funds needed within a few months. The Japan Club members, Kano-sensei, and UNCW have been fantastic. The Japan Club is currently planning the dedication ceremony.

UNCW Japan Club Members

UNCW Japan Club GLH cookie sale

Kano-sensei invited me to speak at the North Carolina Teaching about Asia Network Seminar being held at UNCW on Saturday, September 30th. The dedication ceremony will take place after this seminar.

I’m so grateful to my daughter, her professor, the Japan Club members, and UNC Wilmington. Their enthusiasm and dedication to this cause truly touched my heart.

I do have one other very important reason why I feel that UNCW is a perfect fit. In the summer of 2014, my mother toured only one college with my daughter. And yes, that college was UNCW. 😊

I hope that whenever someone walks between the UNCW Student Union and the pond near Leutze Hall, they might find respite from the heat of the Carolina sun under this A-bomb tree. And while sitting there, would read the plaque, be reminded of what happened on August 6, 1945, and the wish for peace that these trees bring. I pray that these Hiroshima A-bomb trees are the last ones that will ever need to be planted to remind us of why nuclear weapons should never be used again.

When the A-bomb Ginkgo tree is dedicated to the Ishikawa family, on September 30th, I am sure my mom will be smiling. Just like she did whenever she looked at the Japanese maple in our front yard.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma.

DiverseKidLit

Light the Lights and Ring the Bells

At this time of year, almost anywhere you may go, you can see holiday lights. Sparkling lights adorn the evergreen tree in the mall parking lot, as well as decorating doorways and front lawns in your neighborhood. Personally, I’m partial to the blue lights on our Palm tree in front of our house.bluelightspalm

Lights also play a major role in the Jewish celebration of Chanukah, the winter festival of lights.  In Japan, the celebration of Christmas is not necessarily for religious reasons, nor is it much of a commercial holiday.  However, their outside Christmas light displays are amazing.

tokyoxmaslights

But lights are not just illuminating the outdoors.  Two weeks ago, I attended a remembrance service sponsored by the local hospice. Each of us that gathered there had lost a loved one. Some people had lost someone as far back as twenty years while some as recent as a few days before.

Inside the church four candles were lit- one represented grief, the second courage, the third one for our memories, and the fourth for our love. One of the hospice staff lit his individual candle, while saying the names of the people he was honoring and a fond memory about them. He then passed the light to the next person and we each in turn did the same. I’m not going to lie, it was difficult, yet very cathartic.

Inside my home, I lit candles the past 4 Sundays on our advent wreath. These lights remind me that a baby was born long ago to be with us, to save us, to stay with us.  Celebrating that miraculous birthday gives me strength and hope through each aspect of my life.adventwreath2

Our own birthdays are another occasion with candlelight.  My mom’s fell on December 15.  She loved éclairs more than cake. I remember the last birthday we celebrated. She was in a nursing home for physical rehab after her first hospital stay.  She finally had her appetite and I wanted to bring her an éclair.

It sounds easy enough.  However, around here, eclairs are not all made the same.  Some only have a fluffy, frosting cream instead of the yummy custard we had up north.  Anyway… I finally had found a bakery.  My daughter and I brought it to her, along with a little battery operated candle that she could make a wish on.  We sang to her, and kept the candle going the rest of the night. Little did I know, she would be gone in 4 weeks to the day of that birthday.

Last year, I was too depressed to celebrate her birthday.  But this year, I bought an éclair, lit a candle, and we celebrated my mom.

Glimmering lights and candles are used for remembrances and celebrations. In that sense, I feel that a person’s love for us can also be a light in our life.  When someone passes away, their light may flicker, but it is never really snuffed out. The source of the light is just a bit further away, and our loving memories keep the flame burning.

We are now about to usher in 2017. Many countries celebrate the new year with fireworks, firecrackers, and bells ringing. While I was growing up, my mother insisted that I always be home with her on New Year’s Eve. She believed that if the whole family was together at that time, there would be good fortune in the new year.  When I married, and moved further away, I would call her right after the ball dropped in Times Square and wish her happy new year in Japanese –  “Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu”. (One of the few Japanese phrases I know). I did this every year until she passed away. I so miss that. (I also miss the time when I could stay awake past midnight.)

In THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM(TLCB), one of the featured holidays is the New Year celebration(Oshogatsu).  Yuriko’s Papa settled his business finances for the year, they cleaned the house, New Year decorations were put up, and Yuriko helped her relatives prepare their special food for the New Year celebration which lasted from December 31st through January 3rd.

I feel that the sentiment from this paragraph of Yuriko’s celebration in TLCB echoes what I hope 2017 will bring:

           I took Papa’s hand as the temple bell began to strike. It rang out 108 times.  Each toll of the bell was intended to symbolize the release of a sin or bad habit, giving a fresh start to the New Year. But with each bong I sat wishing, “Peace, peace, peace…”  

I wish you a peaceful New Year filled with much joy and light with your loved ones!

Also linking up at Coffee For Your Heart.