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Photo courtesy of Cindy Costa
TALES OF TRAGEDY: 'Grandma' Kaz Suyeishi describes to a group of Ranchero Middle School students before and after pictures of injured Japanese with third-degree burns in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bomb in 1945 during World War II. Suyeishi, a survivor of the bomb, visited with students at the school on Thursday.

Hiroshima survivor speaks of atmoic bomb

Kaz Suyeishi, known to most simply as “Grandma Kaz,” was one mile away when American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima in Japan at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945.

On Thursday, Suyeishi, 85, shared her story with students at Ranchero Middle School so they could better understand the realities of that day 67 years ago.

Suyeishi was born in Pasadena in 1927 but was raised in Hiroshima when her family moved back to Japan that same year.

Despite the ongoing war, she said Hiroshima was a peaceful city — no soldiers or bombs indicated the tension going on in the world.

Before the bombs were dropped, it was routine for Suyeishi to see American B-29 bomber airplanes in the sky daily. Every morning she would say, “Good morning angel,” a nickname she’d given the airplane because of its silver wings.

On the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, 18-year-old Suyeishi was outside talking with a neighbor when she saw “angel,” but on this day there was a “white spot on the blue sky.” She pointed and said to her neighbor, “Look at that!” Then suddenly there was a “powerful flash,” Suyeishi said.

Using a technique she had learned in school, she covered her eyes with her first four fingers and then put her thumbs in her ears and dove to the ground. Knocked unconscious, she woke up with a pain in her hand and heavy debris on top of her; she later discovered she’d broken a bone in her back.

“Never feel pain. Nobody cry, nobody yell, very silent,” she said of the first moments after she stood up.

The first words she heard after the bomb were her father’s: “I’m hurt.” Her father suffered third-degree burns, Suyeishi said. She said the days to follow were surrounded by sickness. Sick herself, and with no one to give aid, she believed every day was her last.

Although injured, her father, mother and brother all survived. Her father never said that America was to blame for the bombing of Hiroshima, Suyeishi said.

“Parents never teach hate, [taught] don’t you ever hate people, and don’t fight back,” Suyeishi said of her feelings over what happened. Suyeishi, who lives in Torrance now, said she wouldn’t live in America if she hated America.

One day, Suyeishi said an American gentleman pointed at her and accused, “You kill many soldiers at Pearl Harbor.” Even though her English was not good, she wanted to tell him what had happened to her. She pointed to herself, “Me Hiroshima bomb hurt. She pointed to him, “You American.” She pointed back to herself, “Me American … I love you.” She believed the man understood her because he left without another word.

At first, Suyeishi said she didn’t speak about Hiroshima, but nightmares and memories couldn’t be forgotten. She began to share her story 40 years ago, after two girls told her she shouldn’t be ashamed to speak because of her limited English. Grandma Kaz realized that speaking “from the heart” would leave more of an impression than speaking English well ever could.

Earlier this year, Ranchero Middle School Language Arts teacher Matthew Bales heard her speak during a college class he attended. When he spoke of Suyeishi, the interest of students and fellow teachers led to Bales asking Grandma Kaz to speak at RMS.

On Thursday, throughout the day, about 360 seventh- and eighth-grade students heard Grandma Kaz’s story in Hesperia at the RMS library.

Prior to seeing Grandma Kaz, students were shown video clips of WWII and told about the conflict between the countries. Students were also told about what types of bombs were used during the war — firebombs, grenades, explosives — and that the Japanese were “unprepared for a bomb of this magnitude,” said Bales.

While she was speaking, Grandma Kaz interacted with the students. She asked them questions, answered their questions and showed them before and after pictures of injured Japanese with third-degree burns.

She also told students instead of fighting they should, “Open your hands, hold hands and say I love you.” The students did as she asked, filling the library with shouts of “I love you.”

A few students shared their thoughts after hearing Grandma Kaz’s story.

Fortunate to have survived, bomb victims should be shown “respect,” said Kathryne McClurg, 13.

“So forgiving of Americans,” Alexis Brown, 12, said of Suyeishi.

Grandma Kaz feels it is her responsibility as an American citizen and hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor) to share her experience with others.

“If you know Hiroshima’s story then no more war,” Suyeishi said. “[We] have to have a foundation [for peace].”


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