Subscribe
Shigeaki Mori, 77, a Hiroshima historian, recounts the aftermath of the 1945 Atomic bombing in Hiroshima to Susan Archinski, a niece of Normand Brissette, who was exposed to radiation from the bomb.

Shigeaki Mori, 77, a Hiroshima historian, recounts the aftermath of the 1945 Atomic bombing in Hiroshima to Susan Archinski, a niece of Normand Brissette, who was exposed to radiation from the bomb. (Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes)

Shigeaki Mori, 77, a Hiroshima historian, recounts the aftermath of the 1945 Atomic bombing in Hiroshima to Susan Archinski, a niece of Normand Brissette, who was exposed to radiation from the bomb.

Shigeaki Mori, 77, a Hiroshima historian, recounts the aftermath of the 1945 Atomic bombing in Hiroshima to Susan Archinski, a niece of Normand Brissette, who was exposed to radiation from the bomb. (Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes)

The cenotaph for the A-bomb victims sits in the center of a 30-acre Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the ground-zero site of the nuclear bombing 70 years ago. The stone chest in the center of the memorial holds the books that register all the names of those who died from the bombing. By 2009, Shigeaki Mori registered the names of 12 U.S. servicemembers to the official books.

The cenotaph for the A-bomb victims sits in the center of a 30-acre Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the ground-zero site of the nuclear bombing 70 years ago. The stone chest in the center of the memorial holds the books that register all the names of those who died from the bombing. By 2009, Shigeaki Mori registered the names of 12 U.S. servicemembers to the official books. (Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes)

The cenotaph for the A-bomb victims sits in the center of a 30-acre Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the ground-zero site of the nuclear bombing 70 years ago. The stone chest in the center of the memorial holds the books that register all the names of those who died from the bombing. By 2009, Shigeaki Mori registered the names of 12 U.S. servicemembers to the official books.

The cenotaph for the A-bomb victims sits in the center of a 30-acre Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the ground-zero site of the nuclear bombing 70 years ago. The stone chest in the center of the memorial holds the books that register all the names of those who died from the bombing. By 2009, Shigeaki Mori registered the names of 12 U.S. servicemembers to the official books. (Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes)

One of the most visited memorials in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is the Children's Peace Monument to commemorate all the children who died from the Atomic bombing. The girl's statue atop the monument was modeled after Sadako Sasaki who died of leukemia at age 12, 10 years after she was exposed to the blast. She folded origami paper cranes in her sickbed in hopes of making 1,000 cranes so that her wish to continue to live would be granted.

One of the most visited memorials in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is the Children's Peace Monument to commemorate all the children who died from the Atomic bombing. The girl's statue atop the monument was modeled after Sadako Sasaki who died of leukemia at age 12, 10 years after she was exposed to the blast. She folded origami paper cranes in her sickbed in hopes of making 1,000 cranes so that her wish to continue to live would be granted. (Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes)

Children from a local kindergarten donate origami paper cranes they folded to the Children's Peace Monument on March 25, 2015, in Hiroshima, Japan.

Children from a local kindergarten donate origami paper cranes they folded to the Children's Peace Monument on March 25, 2015, in Hiroshima, Japan. (Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes)

Akio Nakamura, 82, meets Susan Archinski during her March 23, 2015, visit to Hiroshim, Japan. Nakamura, who traveled from Shiga prefecture, near Kyoto, to meet Archinski, is believed to be the last living witness of the 12 U.S. servicemembers who were being held a POW detention center when the atomic bomb his Hiroshima.

Akio Nakamura, 82, meets Susan Archinski during her March 23, 2015, visit to Hiroshim, Japan. Nakamura, who traveled from Shiga prefecture, near Kyoto, to meet Archinski, is believed to be the last living witness of the 12 U.S. servicemembers who were being held a POW detention center when the atomic bomb his Hiroshima. (Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes)

A monument to commemorate 128 crewmembers of the imperial Japanese navy heavy cruiser Tone and 17 residents who died when the warship was destroyed in the attacks by U.S. bombers in late July 1945.

A monument to commemorate 128 crewmembers of the imperial Japanese navy heavy cruiser Tone and 17 residents who died when the warship was destroyed in the attacks by U.S. bombers in late July 1945. (Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes)

Hiroshi Tsuda was 5 when the imperial Japanese navy heavy cruiser Tone was bombed and sunk. He remembers the day when the entire island quaked during an intensive bombing of the warship in late July 1945.

Hiroshi Tsuda was 5 when the imperial Japanese navy heavy cruiser Tone was bombed and sunk. He remembers the day when the entire island quaked during an intensive bombing of the warship in late July 1945. (Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes)

Two rocks are the remnants of what used to be a mountain that had been extended out into the waters, where imperial Japanese navy heavy cruiser Tone had been sheltered.

Two rocks are the remnants of what used to be a mountain that had been extended out into the waters, where imperial Japanese navy heavy cruiser Tone had been sheltered. (Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes)

Wooden memorial markers for U.S. Navy airman 3rd Class Normand Brissette, left, and Army Staff Sgt. Ralph Neal were put up by Capt. Taro Takahashi of the imperial Japanese military police in Ujina, Hiroshima, on the site they died on Aug. 19, 1945.

Wooden memorial markers for U.S. Navy airman 3rd Class Normand Brissette, left, and Army Staff Sgt. Ralph Neal were put up by Capt. Taro Takahashi of the imperial Japanese military police in Ujina, Hiroshima, on the site they died on Aug. 19, 1945. (Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes)

Airman 3rd Class Navy combat gunner Normand R. Brissette.

Airman 3rd Class Navy combat gunner Normand R. Brissette. (Photo courtesy of Tony and Susan Archinski)

In this photo taken in 1945, Normand Brissette, right, 18, poses in his Navy uniform with his younger brother, Raymond, 15.

In this photo taken in 1945, Normand Brissette, right, 18, poses in his Navy uniform with his younger brother, Raymond, 15. (Photo courtesy of Tony and Susan)

Shigeaki Mori, 77, a Hiroshima historian chats with Susan Archinski of Massachusetts as filmmaker Barry Frechette watches them near the moat of Hiroshima Castle on March 23, 2015. Archinski visited Hiroshima to follow the footsteps made 70 years ago by her uncle, Normand Brissette, who was a prisoner of war in Hiroshima and died from radiation sickness following the dropping of the atomic bomb.

Shigeaki Mori, 77, a Hiroshima historian chats with Susan Archinski of Massachusetts as filmmaker Barry Frechette watches them near the moat of Hiroshima Castle on March 23, 2015. Archinski visited Hiroshima to follow the footsteps made 70 years ago by her uncle, Normand Brissette, who was a prisoner of war in Hiroshima and died from radiation sickness following the dropping of the atomic bomb. (Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes)

Susan Archinski, 55, of Massachusetts, wipes her eyes at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum as she listens to the fate of her uncle, Airman 3rd Class Navy combat gunner, Normand Brissette, then, 19. Brissette was a prisoner of war in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped. He died from radiation sickness.

Susan Archinski, 55, of Massachusetts, wipes her eyes at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum as she listens to the fate of her uncle, Airman 3rd Class Navy combat gunner, Normand Brissette, then, 19. Brissette was a prisoner of war in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped. He died from radiation sickness. (Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes)

Susan Archinski, 55, of Massachusetts, stands at the site where a former POW detention facility was located in Hiroshima, Japan. On this spot, her uncle, Normand Brissette, and 11 U.S. servicemembers were exposed radiation from the atomic bomb dropped on the city in 1945.

Susan Archinski, 55, of Massachusetts, stands at the site where a former POW detention facility was located in Hiroshima, Japan. On this spot, her uncle, Normand Brissette, and 11 U.S. servicemembers were exposed radiation from the atomic bomb dropped on the city in 1945. (Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes)

HIROSHIMA, Japan — In the waning days of World War II, at least a dozen U.S. aviators were captured and transferred to Hiroshima after their planes were shot down while crippling the heart of Japan’s remaining naval fleet.

Their time as POWs didn’t last long. Less than two weeks after they were taken to the Chugoku Military Police Headquarters, the first atomic bomb used in war went off a quarter mile away. Most of the Americans died the same day; radiation sickness claimed the rest.

News of the deaths was not initially released, and even their families didn’t know how they died for decades.

But the work of Shigeaki Mori, a local historian who was only 8 at the time of the blast and survived by a stroke of luck, pieced together what happened, spending years digging through mountains of official documents, listening to numerous interviews with witnesses and comrades of the fallen Americans, and tracking down their families.

Finally, he was about to meet one of the relatives.

'It was shocking to me' By July 1945, Japan was on its heels. It had lost its gains in the Pacific, and Okinawa had just fallen in the bloodiest battle of World War II in the Pacific theater. U.S. bombers were pounding dozens of Japanese cities, causing up to a half-million fatalities.

Now the U.S. was facing a possible ground assault on the Japanese mainland that military leaders estimated would lead to the deaths of 250,000 American troops and millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians.

Instead, President Harry S. Truman decided to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki three days later.

Mori went to school across the street from the Chugoku police headquarters. One week before the bombing, he was transferred, for reasons he still doesn’t know, to another school about 1.5 miles west of the epicenter. It saved his life.

He was on his way to class, walking on a bridge over a river with his friend. He heard a roaring sound and saw a horrifying flash. The next moment, the shock wave sent his body flying in the air, like a leaf blown away by wind, before landing in the water, he said. Mori later heard that everyone else on the bridge died, including his friend, who suffered severe burns. So did everyone at his old school.

Later in the evening, he saw his school auditorium filled with wounded and the schoolyard littered with heaps of corpses.

“To this day, I am amazed at how lucky I was,” he said ““I was exposed to a huge amount of radiation and I even drank water that was contaminated with radiation. Also, I was exposed to black rains.”

Mori had just become a hibakusha, a Japanese word created for survivors of the August 1945 bombings that effectively ended World War II. Japan surrendered days later.

In the early 1970s, Mori came to know the fates of the American POWs who fell victim of the A-bomb along with about 140,000 Japanese. A man who could easily have been filled with bitterness over the bombing instead devoted himself to research.

“When I first learned of the American victims, I realized that none of them had been officially recognized as a victim of the Atomic bomb. It was shocking to me,” Mori said. “Unless someone speaks for them, their sacrifices would be thrown into darkness. I wanted to shed light on those Americans who fell the victims of the bombing just like other 140,000 people.”

By 2009, he had officially registered the POWs’ names and photographs at the national memorial in Hiroshima as a way to pay respect for their sacrifices. He also erected a private memorial plaque near the epicenter to console the souls of the Americans.

But he always thought something was missing.

“I’ve always wished to have someone from their families to come here and offer a prayer for them. Today my dream came true,” Mori said as Susan Archinski stood by his side in a park near Hiroshima Castle in March.

Archinski, 55, of Massachusetts, is a niece of Normand Brissette, a 19-year-old Navy combat gunner from Lowell, Mass., who served the SB2C Helldiver. It was among 40 planes that took off from the USS Ticonderoga on July 27 on a mission to attack the imperial Japanese navy heavy cruiser Tone anchored in Kure, about 21 miles west of central Hiroshima.

Piloted by Raymond L. Porter, the plane was about to return to the aircraft carrier when it was hit by anti-aircraft fire from the Tone. Both Brissette and Porter safely parachuted out and were able to get aboard a life raft dropped from a fellow fighter plane behind them.

Before a U.S. rescue team could arrive, however, they were captured by Japanese imperial soldiers patrolling nearby waters on a motor boat. They were taken to Chugoku later that day.

Visiting the site While in a wheelchair pushed by his wife Kayoko, who also survived the bombing at age 2, Mori took Archinski to the sites where her uncle had gone after initially surviving the nuclear blast — to the moat of Hiroshima Castle, where Brissette and his comrade, Neal, were found, to an army hospital (now used as an automobile company’s warehouse), where both succumbed to radiation poisoning on Aug. 19, and to a grave site where they were cremated and buried.

“It is very touching that I am walking the same soil that my uncle did,” Archinski said, standing by the moat.

She said she learned of her uncle’s death in 1975, but never knew the details. Her father, Raymond, was 15 when his older brother volunteered to join the Navy. Every time her father started to talk about his brother, he choked up, she said.

“To this day, he has a hard way of dealing with it,” she said.

She said her father told of one day wearing a pair of pants that his brother left behind.

“My father found a one-dollar bill in the pocket, so he mailed it to his brother,” she said.

Then Normand sent it back to him, telling him that he could keep it.

“That’s when my father starts crying and is never able to finish the story,” she said.

'There is no 'us or them'' Archinski had another mission on this tour. It was for a documentary film of her late uncle and his 11 fallen comrades. Called “Paper Lanterns,” it is expected to be released in November.

Accompanying her on the tour to Hiroshima was the film’s director, Barry Frechette, 44, of Massachusetts.

In 2012, Frechette learned of the fate of Brissette through a book compiled by Archinski’s husband, Tony. It was meant to relate the history of Normand among his family and close friends, but Frechette felt the story should have a wider audience.

“I was really captured by what he must have gone through,” Frechette said.

He said he tried to put himself in Brissette’s shoes, but it was impossible to imagine.

Frechette then realized that the story of the lost POWs was little known in the United States. Further motivation came from a 2012 Stars and Stripes story on Mori.

“I felt …someone had to take some action to get Mr. Mori’s actions out to the public here in the states,” he said. “I would also find a way to speak of the sacrifice of Normand, who suffered just like all the Japanese.”

He later found that his great-uncle was Brissette’s best childhood friend, who also still seeks closure for the loss.

Mori looks forward to seeing the film because it will tell the stories of those who suffered and died quietly, thousands of miles away from home.

“My only wish is to give them light that they well deserve,” he said, adding that the peace we enjoy today stands on the sacrifices made by those who died in the war, he said.

“This must be known by many and made sure to pass down to future generations.”

Archinsky also visited Etajima, the island where the Tone was berthed at the city of Kure.

Hiroshi Tsuda, who was 5 at the time, described how the U.S. intensive air raids shook the entire island, chopped the Tone in half and chopped off a big portion of a mountain where the heavy cruiser had been sheltered. A monument now stands one the remaining part of the mountain to commemorate 128 crewmembers and 17 residents who died in the attack.

Mori said he was deeply moved to see Archinski offering a silent prayer before the monument, her eyes filled with tears.

“She made me realize once again that there is no “us or them” in the tragedy of war,” Mori said.

sumida.chiyomi@stripes.com

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up