In remembrance of the victims who lost their lives during and after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 76 years ago, a group of local residents gathered on Westmont College’s Magnolia Lawn on Friday evening for a night of reflection and song.
Under the backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains, participants in the 27th annual Sadako Peace Day read impassioned poems that called for peace and reflection in remembrance of the tragedy that claimed the lives of more than 200,000 individuals. Experts estimate that a total of about 120,000 people were killed in the initial blasts in Hiroshima and Nagaski, and thousands more died within the next decade from radiation poisoning and associated illnesses. Friday marked exactly 76 years since the bombing of Hiroshima.
At Friday’s event, rainbow-colored origami cranes hung from the magnolia trees in tribute to Sadako Sasaki, a 2-year-old girl who survived the initial blast in Hiroshima, but died a decade later from radiation-induced leukemia. Before her death, Sadako folded more than 1,500 paper cranes in an attempt to obtain a wish that Japanese legend said could be granted after folding 1,000 cranes.
Decades after her death, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation created the Sadako Peace Day event in honor of the young girl and the many innocent victims who lost their lives in the bombings.
Frank Bognar, a NAPF board member and former board chair, opened Friday’s event by telling Sadako’s story and discussing the importance of remembering tragic events. During his remarks, he quoted the author of the book “Hiroshima” John Hersey, who wrote “our only hope is memory.”
“I think the importance of (remembering), especially today, is that events are happening so quickly, and we need to have a time to reflect on what we’re doing and where we’re going,” Mr. Bognar told the News-Press on Friday. “And the rate of violence is just escalating, and has been over the past decade, to such a point that we’re concerned about the use of nuclear weapons, which I think is probably the greatest environmental threat to the world that a tragedy could happen within a matter of hours. So for us to remember the victims, and to remember, especially Sadako, I think brings about our humanity, our greater humanity.”
A number of former poet laureates delivered original poems during Friday’s event, including Sojourner Kincaid Rolle and David Starkey, as well as Perie Longo, who read a poem on behalf of NAPF President Emeritus David Krieger. Current poet laureate Emma Trelles also shared an original poem titled “The Function of a Wing,” which used the imagery of sandhill cranes flying to reflect on the life of Sadako and promote peace.
Reflecting on Friday’s event, Ms. Trelles said events like the Sadako Peace Day event have an opportunity to promote real change in the local community.
“I think that all change initiates in our communities, and I think a gathering like this is a way to set intention and create goodwill and a little peace in a world that’s kind of riddled with chaos,” Ms. Trelles told the News-Press. “I think it connects us to each other, you know, our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues, people we might not have met before. I really believe that community is at the heart of healing.”
In addition to poetry reflections, Friday’s event also featured music from Bob Nyosui Sedivy, a komuso monk from Carpinteria, who opened and closed the ceremony with beautiful melodies played on his wooden bamboo flute called a shakuhachi. His songs whistled through the trees as the audience sat and peacefully listened.
Local singer/songwriter Hal Maynard also presented two original songs during Friday’s event, strumming a steel guitar that was a decade old when the bombings occured. He was joined by Sandy Jones, the interim president of NAPF.
Following Friday’s event, Ms. Jones told the News-Press the Sadako Peace Day serves as a way to keep the memory of the tragic event alive and ensure that a tragedy of the same magnitude never occurs again.
“I think in today’s world, there’s so much loss, and I think we can just learn from the past,” Ms. Jones said. “And the more we can do here in Santa Barbara so that people become aware of (the tragedy) that didn’t know about it — not everyone gets taught the same history, so this is our way of spreading the word.”