Posts Tagged ‘Last Train from Hiroshima’

Cow 1 is not Cow 2

I recently read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It wasn’t an easy book to read. Her story of WWII veteran Louie Zamperini’s atrocious and brutal treatment by the Japanese guards in POW camps sent razors up my spine. I wanted to enter the story to stop those guards:” Don’t do this. You are more human than this. Besides, you’re going to let the world hate us Japanese all over again.” In the book, the man of Honor was Mr. Zamperini who sought and found forgiveness and devotes his life to a world without war.

War Dehumanizes

Almost a year ago, on February 24th, I posted the following review of The Last Train from Hiroshima by Charles Pellegrino on a site that carried an excellent review of this book: http://avomnia.wordpress.com.

…”In 1945, I heard my parents discuss the death of their families in Hiroshima. A child, I didn’t know the significance of that day, a day that my ancestors were all destroyed.
I later wrote:


We cut the chrysanthemum
Off its stalk
And left it naked in the sun.
(from The Enemy Wore My Face)

In 1989, Noriyo, a third grader from Hiroshima entered my classroom. They had moved to Hawaii because her grandmother was dying from cancer. She was a child during the bombing, and her doctor had advised: Go to Hawaii where the weather is sunny for the last few months of her life. I wrote the following poem for Noriyo:

44 Years Later

a dark mushroom cloud
follows me across the Pacific
into my classroom.
forgive us, Noriyo
for Hiroshima
and Nagasaki.

( from The Enemy Wore My Face)

In 1995, Dr. Jiro Nakano edited and translated 100 tanka poems written by survivors (hibakusha) of Hiroshima in a book called Outcry From the Inferno. I was deeply honored to be one of the English editors.
In 2010, I read Charles Pellegrino’s The Last Train from Hiroshima.

Nothing, not the discussions in our kitchen, my poems, the editing I did to Outcry From the Inferno, nothing is more real than this book. One of the main survivor’s tanka is included in the Inferno book. One of the survivors bears the same name of my mother’s family. Mr. Pellegrino, thank you for taking me back to where it happened…”

A few weeks ago, Charles Pellegrino recommended the following book: Hiroshima: Bridge to Forgiveness by Takashi “Thomas” Tanemori.

Mr. Tanemori was a young child when the bomb fell on Hiroshima. His story is as brutally painful as both Pellegrino’s and Hillenbrand’s books. He was ostracized and left on the streets by his own grandparents and his villagers because orphans were considered nothings. They were treated like lepers. His escape to America continued his dehumanization His story lifts the masks of both the Japanese and the Americans long after end of the war. Throughout his journey, he upheld his father Code of Honor and the name Tanemori, and sought and found peace and forgiveness. Today, blind from radiation, he heads the Silkworm Peace Institute in Berkeley, California.

I posted the following review on Tanemori’s book on Amazon.com:

…”Tanemori-san, Mr. Tanemori,

If I were to meet you I would fill your glass with the best sake ́.

Your story took me beyond flower arrangements, tea ceremonies, silk kimonos and koto music of my ancestral land. It also took me into the blind spots of my birth land of hope, humanity and equality here in America.
How one man could have suffered and still stand up to honor his father’s name, and to strive for world peace and love of brotherhood are indeed awe-inspiring. You remind me once again that we need to rise above all cultural, political, religious, racial and social beliefs if they begin to reduce our own humanity toward our fellow human beings. There is a flaw somewhere when our own beliefs and practices in the name of religion and culture dehumanize others. Thank you for not only telling us your story but for making a difference in at least one reader that forgiveness and love of humanity must be preserved by being practiced by each of us.

War does not end. War does not end with peace treaties or withdrawal of arms. War does not end.

Perhaps someday, the word “forgiveness” will disappear from our vocabulary when there is nothing to forgive in a world created by true humanists like yourself ( and men like Pellegrino and Zamperini). I took your “butterfly” and your “blade of grass” and wrote the following:

A white butterfly
Flits from flower to flower
After a rainfall.

a blade of grass bends,
raindrops on its back, then springs
in the noonday sun…”


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A reader commented on my Technical Math for Dummies blog that “online tutors are best persons to guide students doing their studies” and I responded:

I’m still stuck in the dinosaur age and after 25 years in the classroom, I choose to be there because I believe the best of tutors is a human one. When students come to need tutoring, it often implies there is a need for additional help. In my experience, I discovered that often, the source of reading or math or any other subject matter problems may not necessarily reside in that particular area of study. And if does, it takes more than textbook guides to get to the core of reading which is magical, enjoyable and meaningful.

I once diagnosed a student’s reading problem being outside of reading. It took a lot of probing and talking story with Spence to get to his source of disliking books. Another student Joey, who was retained in first grade because he couldn’t read and write, had already learned to do both in the parking lot.

In September, on the first day of school,  Destiny brought her 3rd grade brother to me and said, “He still can’t read and write. You’re the only one who can help him.” And I did.

You can meet these students in my book, “Teacher, You Look Like a Horse.”

Today, I want to introduce you to someone very special, someone who supports my views on having real people as your teachers. Do you think his dad could have been replaced by an on-line tutor with the same kind of result?

A few posts back, I introduced you to one of the daughters of Charles Pellegrino of “Last Train from Hiroshima” through her thought-provoking essay, “Truth Matters.” Today, I bring you his son Kyle – who had to climb over a reading problem, as did many of Pellegrino’s family members. Their stories of triumph need to be shared so I proudly bring you Kyle’s Impressions.


by Kyle Pellegrino

written at age 13

As a young boy, I always had trouble reading. I could never put words together; I could never make out sentences. I even had trouble writing. In preschool, my twin sister, Kelly, could write my name before I could. Other children held the impression that I was stupid. I did everything I could to try and catch up to Kelly. Everyone moved so fast, but I was left behind.

My dad went through very much the same thing when he was a boy. He had a severe case of dyslexia and probably had it worse than I. He told me one day as I was struggling to read comics, “It was hard for me too but somehow having to climb that extra hill gave me more of a love for words than I’d ever have had otherwise.” My dad not only grew up to read books, but to write them as well.

Dad told me that comic books had helped him to catch up, so he tried the same thing with me. The pictures helped to explain the words — which removed some of the stress. The sentences were broken up into shorter lines so it seemed that I was making faster progress. My dad would read one line to me, and I would read the next to him. As I gradually progressed, I read more and more of the dialogue and he read less and less. Months passed, and I graduated to more complex graphic novels. By the time I was in second grade I was reading, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, now ahead of my class.

Surprisingly, reading had become fun; I then started to work on my writing. I worked very hard to sharpen my writing skills and still do so. I try to write often and improve my vocabulary, grammar, and spelling. In school, when commenting on my assignments, my teachers like my style but they note that grammar is something I need to work on. I learn from this criticism and change my writing accordingly.

My dad is a person who cares only for the well being of his children; he helped me through my hardest hurdle in life and helps me with the little problems. I remember crying when I couldn’t read anything. I kept telling myself I was stupid as I stared blankly at the page. Since my dad went through the same thing, he told me “I can see and feel it through your eyes.” Now I love reading and I love writing. In addition to learning how to read and write, a greater lesson has come out of this. I can learn and feel what other people are going through. I don’t just take a first impression and judge the person on that. I give them time and try to see what’s going on in their lives. People say first impressions stick with you forever, I beg to differ.

Kyle’s dad Charles Pellegrino’s response:

I knew he’d do all right. Back when he was seven, when I was working on a tomb project so secret that James Cameron had us working simultaneously in Greece and Egypt just to divert attention from the fact that we were really working in Israel, everything on the sample boxes was written in a code of our own creation.

Kyle was looking at the symbols on the boxes one morning and broke the codes – figuring out exactly where I was working and what I must be working on. After that, I built him a genuine mechanical cryptex with clues hidden all over my office. All three kids were racing so hard to break the codes that when they got to the secret hidden inside (and forcing the cryptex rather than entering the three key words really would have released ink-dissolving glycerine from a vial), it was such anti-climax compared to breaking the codes that they lost interest in the real secret, hidden inside. It turns out that about 25% of the specialized HS exam involved code-breaking.

When I read the end of this “Impressions” essay, and what he learned most from his experience – more important than learning to read – wow. All three of them are learning that Omoiyari is not just a word, but a way of life.

Charles Pellegrino

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The following emails exchanged between Charles Pellegrino and myself are posted here to update you on the latest on The Last Train From Hiroshima. The new edition of the book will be published in four foreign countries as of this writing.

Dr. Charlie,

I’m still in Hawaii, had a successful lecture tour and have lost my voice so will return to Sacramento on Tuesday, a quiet person.
Hawaii tends to isolate you from all the ills of the world. Let me hear some good news from you.
Do check my newest blog and maybe it’ll entice to you to think of Hawaii someday to escape from it all.
I’m anxious to know how the foreign printing is going ….
Thinking of you,

Dear Frances:

One of my mentors on my first book (Darwin’s Universe, the book that got me in all that trouble in New Zealand almost thirty years ago) – was Clair Edwin Folsome, one of the people who invented the field of astrobiology, at the University of Hawaii.  And of course, a word that got this family through my work in the ruins of the World Trade Center came from Hawaii – Ohana. There is a second word I hope my children will also strive to live by: Omoiyari.

Tuesday I am on my way to Japan, on special invite. I will be meeting with Steven Leeper ( Dir of Hiroshima Peace Movement)  and several other new friends, and a few old ones. I am, for the first time, attending both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki ceremonies (and I fear I will not be able to keep my eyes dry in either place).

The second edition of the book, with the new story arcs and with the bomber crew perspective on the Hiroshima mission complete, is the version that will go out as all foreign editions.
While in Japan, I will be meeting with more survivors – to whom the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombings is of extreme importance, and some are now telling their stories for the first time. Aware that there are biological time-bombs ticking away in the tissues of many of the exposed, they want to get their warnings to the future out because they are not sure they will be around for the 70th anniversary.

So, this week, I begin work on the third edition of a book that is only seven months old. This will be the next English edition – if, in fact, one is allowed. I have heard through a colleague from one of the crewmen on the Hiroshima mission, who has read the first edition, and who is – aside from my error about the Necessary Evil’s flight engineer and a bit of false testimony – approving of how I wrote about the crews and the cities, and agrees with the message that we must use the past as best we can, to teach us that these weapons must never be used – ever again, for any reason.

Omoiyari, Nyokodo, Ohana,

– – Charlie Pellegrino

Dr. Charlie,

Please burn an incense or burn a candle for my Hiroshima ancestors when you are there. I believe all the spirits will embrace you and will end the journey of grief and all will be well hereafter. I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking of you in Hiroshima. Karma, my dear Dr. Charlie. good Karma.

from the land of Ohana, take good care. frances

Dear Frances:

I will burn incense. Are there names of family members that you want written on a floating lantern or spoken.

In Nagasaki the name I will carry with me is Eiko, who is only a very short part of my book, and whose story – a child so badly burned that her mother ran away and abandoned her – that I looked up with tears when I read it in Dr. Nagai’s “We of Nagasaki” and told my oldest daughter I’d just come across something so horrible that I could never put it in a book. Ashley was 14, and she told me that Eiko’s story perhaps more than any other told of the horror of the bomb, and said, “Dad, you must put it in your book.” The children get it more than the adults. They are in many ways smarter, as Masahiro Sasaki has observed, and as I am still learning.

Today, Dr. Nagai’s grandsonson does not know where Eiko’s grave is and does not think anyone knows. He has said he is almost completely unfamiliar with her story, and evidently it was only very rarely spoken about. Certainly, he did not want to talk about it – – another example of the cracks that the atomic bomb makes in the human spirit.

See you later,
– – Charlie P.

Dr. Charlie, if you could say both my parents surnames. Takahashi and Kakugawa, that would be a blessing. Thank you. With Ashley in our next generation, my hope is renewed for the future.Have a safe and beautiful trip.


Dear Frances:

I sent your ancestors’ names out on a floating lantern last night, near the Hiroshima Dome while Yuji Sasaki (Sadako’s nephew) sang his prayer Inori  (now a very popular song here in Japan).  The morning ceremony was not what I expected. As the ringing of the bell approached I was anticipating solemn music from the orchestra; but instead it was a continually and ominously building tone that conveyed the approach of something horrible (they chose music directly reminiscent of Godzilla’s approach to Tokyo, in the original B&W film) – and one of the main images it conveyed for me was the three planes closing in from the west, as the clock ticked down toward 8:15 AM –  and then,  the long seconds of silence as the bomb fell, followed finally by children ringing that huge bell. I knew the names of too many people, and the distances they had been from me, and in which directions, 65 years ago to the moment. One of the most emotionally exhausting moments imaginable.

We must, all of us, do whatever little we can to make sure the world never sees another hypocenter.

None of this has been about the past and who did what to whom, all those years ago. It’s about a future that must be avoided, if we are to have any chance of building a world for tomorrow’s child that is worth having.

– – Charlie P.Dear Frances.

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 Truth Matters

How do you know as parents, your desires and attempts to teach your children the values of  being a good human being are being received and nurtured? Often, the most important lessons can’t be measured by test scores or other immediate feedback. Academic learnings, such as math, can be measured through tests or by observing whether those concepts are being applied in their daily living. But what about truth, respect, dignity and standing up for what you believe? How do you teach and measure that? Parents, I believe, can only hope that their role modeling is making a difference, even if the results are not presently visible. Often, these lessons come with a price.

I asked Charles Pellegrino, “How are your children handling this controversy over your book? ( Last Train from Hiroshima). Do they need protecting or are they protecting you?”  His answer came through his junior high school daughter Kelly who wrote an essay in class before the Last Train from Hiroshima controversy.

Kelly is truly her father’s daughter. Once again, a child shows us that if we respect them and allow them to live with the same kind of dignity, honesty, love and trust we wish to nurture in them, they will eventually know this is the way to be.

Kelly, you are totally awesome. You taught me that there is no need for protection where truth prevails. The world’s a better place because of you and your dad. I hope to meet you someday. Thank you, Kelly.

Truth Matters,
by K. Pellegrino, March 2010:

From the time I could talk, I found that lying to my parents, or my siblings, was the easy way out. The littlest details that I spoke were, usually, lies. Claims like, “Kylie did it, not me!” or “No, I did not take your crackers!” were heard every day. I should not have been surprised that by age five I had lost my parents’ trust.

Daddy always told me that truth was golden. “The only exception,” he said, “is to protect an innocent person from harm.” I made no effort to understand. “I do tell the truth! The truth – and nothing but the truth!” I would say, and then dismiss the subject.

I didn’t really learn how important the truth was until I was six years old, when Daddy sat us all down at the table. “I’ve made a decision,” he began, “that is going to affect all of us, and not in a good way.”

At the time, he had been working at Ground Zero [New York] as a forensic scientist. He also made part of his living by writing books. His editor-in-chief had asked him to claim, along with a group of others (among which was a powerful, award-winning writer), to go along with a terrible hoax. According to the hoax, a fire truck (Ladder 4), had been found filled with stacks of stolen blue jeans, and therefore this fire crew had been looting on 9/11, instead of saving lives. The truck, in fact, was found in the middle of Daddy’s section, and he was capable [Dad NOTE: Along with Rhonda Schearer], of proving that it was a hoax. The proof was so strong that the author and editor admitted it was a hoax; but they threatened him. If he did not go along with it, “as a team player,” they assured him that they had the power to damage his career.

“I said no,” Daddy continued. “I couldn’t do that. If I did, how could I face you kids and ever tell you again that the truth matters?”

At the time, I did not fully comprehend what he was telling me. But as I grew older, I noticed changes. Dad could no longer afford to keep my Grandfather’s home. After a History Channel program [American Vesuvius, 2005] featured his forensic investigation and cleared Ladder 4’s name, Dad’s literary agent was forced to fire him, or face boycott of every one of his authors (by an editor).

And I realized, if Dad is willing to sacrifice his writing career for the truth, it must have tremendous importance.

Many parents tell their kids not to lie, but it’s their actions that kids learn from and copy. I’m thankful for my Dad, and how he taught me the importance of truth through his example, and I never would have been able to dedicate myself to the truth without his help.

K. Pellegrino

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I received a personal email from Mr. Pellegrino of Last Train from Hiroshima. He added more plausible explanations of what happened to the “hoax” of Last Train from Hiroshima. It is my understanding that Mr. Pellegrino may have been a victim of an unfair accusation rather than the perpetrator of a hoax. He has given me permission to post his email. See below: In the meantime, this is my reply to Mr. Pelligrino:

Dear Mr. Pellegrino,

You have  a Japanese soul that lives by retaining dignity through silence. On my desk, I have a saying, “You can’t quote silence.”  I write this with deep emotion that you are able to live on “interesting” and ” madness” without needing to blast the media and other people involved, who could set the story closer to the truth. I now question if silence is always good.

I’m ecstatic over your responses and wanted to hear that the story of the victims and survivors was authentic because I wanted so much to believe, that the story of my ancestors was real. Thank you, most sincerely, for giving me this legacy through your book.

Now, what can I do to help undo bad media press and let silence be heard?

frances kakugawa

Dear Frances Kakugawa: A friend just directed me last night to your open letter of nearly a month ago – to which I have just responded on your site.

Please be assured that I have learned more than most people that we must keep a faith with the dead, and this includes never being so arrogant (as one of my archaeologist-teachers once said) to believe that our job makes us “speakers for the dead.”

My job is to get as close as humanly possible to the truth.

When I saw the evidence that one of the aviators had given me an account that turned out to be untrue, I wanted nothing more than to see the book withdrawn and to quickly put out a corrected edition. I argued that technology had the answer and (as Tsutomu Yamaguchi and Masahiro Sasaki would have me do) suggested that my publisher try to build a bridge to its declared enemy, Amazon-Kindle. “We could get a corrected copy out in weeks,” I said cheerily. This went over about half as well as a hand-grenade in a cesspool.

Amid such contention, an anti-evolutionist 9/11 conspiracy theorist named Brennan got to my publisher through the Associated Press with what was essentially a hoax about my having a “phony” Ph.D. I provided the publisher with a (requested) copy of my published Ph.D. Dissertation (having been told that such copy should end the argument).

Meanwhile, the 509th bomber wing (and its descendant family members) started making unreasonable assertions and demands – such as removing or diminishing Charles Sweeney in the next edition (a man who went out of his way to avoid bombing a largely civilian target and who, after Hiroshima, said he needed to go see a priest after being told he was going to have to do this again). By and large, the 509th hate anyone who expressed remorse over the bombings – so (having quickly had a belly full of the 509th) I told my publisher I was now adding Robert Lewis to the new edition (the co-pilot who looked down upon Hiroshima and said, “My God, what have we done?”). I was told that I should not make matters worse because we “need the 509th on our side… we need this dispute to simply go away – quickly” (Steve Rubin, Holt). Very close to the final straw for me had been a claim by the 509th bomber wing that I did not know anything about nuclear physics, that
the bombs were designed to dissipate all radiation at high altitude before it could reach the ground, and that my writings about radiation effects on the ground in Hiroshima were a hoax. The publisher demanded proof of radiation. I presented an extensive list of scientific papers (including our own U.S. Bombing Survey data).

Oddly, the answer to these papers and to the copy of my Ph.D. Dissertation were the same: “This is all too scientific.” I pointed out that we were in New York City and that we had the American Museum of Natural History (where Niles Eldredge was a supporter of my Ph.D Dissertation) and Columbia University, all within a quick subway ride. We also had Jim Powell (of Brookhaven National Laboratory), a polymath who was familiar with my history and who could answer to both issues. (They never bothered to call Powell, or to check with anyone at AMNH or Columbia.)

But… we needed the 509th on our side. And so, my agent pointed out, “You will never get them on our side. This is an anti-war book.”

Madness. Madness. It was like the old Chinese curse that at first glance is meant to look like a blessing: “May you live in interesting times.” This has been a month far too interesting.

– – Charles Pellegrino

Note to Readers: Mr. Pellegrino’s initial response is found under my Open Letter to Mr. Pellegrino under comments.

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