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Surviving the bomb and promoting peace

Two Hiroshima residents visit WHS Japanese class


by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Horie Soh is in the United States to share his story of survival.Do you remember anything that happened when you were 5 years old?

That’s the question Horie Soh asked students in a Japanese language classroom at Wilsonville High School on Sept. 23. Soh, a resident of Hiroshima, Japan, vividly remembers events from 1945, when he was a 5-year-old boy. At 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, Soh’s life changed forever.

He was walking with his older sister, a little way from their home, when they saw a bright flash in the sky. The duo dropped to the ground, with the sister shielding her younger brother with her body. When they recovered, they returned to their home, where they found broken windows, doors blown off and a family in shock.

They didn’t know it at the time, but Hiroshima had been stricken by a new type of weapon — the atomic bomb — the likes of which the world had never before seen.

The family house soon filled with the injured, Soh said, including badly burned and disfigured people. Soon enough, the house was filled with the dead and dying, including Soh’s father, who died six days after the blast. The bodies were piled at a nearby school and eventually burned. To this day, Soh remembers the odor, he said, of “decaying bodies burned with not enough fuel.”

Every year, a memorial service is held at that school on Aug. 6. Unfortunately, memories are not the only long-term effects of that date. Many bombing survivors have died from or still suffer from their exposure to radiation.

Soh’s sister died of colon cancer; his brother, of liver cancer. His mother and Soh himself are two of the lucky ones. She beat her breast cancer diagnosis, and Soh recently completed treatment for a lymphatic malignancy diagnosed in 2011. He currently is in remission.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Horie Soh vividly remembers the day in 1945 that an atomic bomb fell on his town of Hiroshima.Displaying a photo of his grandchildren, Soh admitted a deep fear.

“I am worried that something may happen to them and their descendents,” he said. “Nuclear weapons kill people long term. Conventional weapons kill people at that time only.”

Soh teaches woodworking to handicapped students and serves as a crossing guard at a local school. He also volunteers with the World Friendship Center, a peace organization based in Hiroshima that is dedicated to telling the stories of the bombing survivors.

Larry Sims, an Amity resident and the grandfather of Nathan Dillon, a sophomore studying Japanese at WHS, lived in Hiroshima and managed the center from early 2011 to June 2013.

“The organization is 47 years old,” Sims said. “We have a small, traditional Japanese home in Hiroshima. Every two years a new set of English-speaking volunteers goes there to run the organization.”

The center was founded on Aug. 6, 1965 — exactly 20 years after the bombing — to provide a place for people from all over the world to meet and reflect on peace, according to its website.

“The founder realized that telling the stories of the survivors was the best way to accomplish world peace,” Sims said. Volunteers like Soh, he said, tell “the story of nuclear war from the standpoint of the victims ... a dwindling number.”

Working with the center, Sims helped organized a visit this fall of a delegation of 16 Japanese visitors from Hiroshima, including four atomic bomb survivors. The visitors are in the United States for about three weeks, speaking at schools and taking trips around the area. Their travels so far have taken them to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where material was made for the atomic bombs, and to a site near Jerome, Idaho, where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. They also will travel to Los Alamos, N.M.

Kimiko Kataoka’s American relatives were interned in the U.S. during the war. A piano teacher, she also spoke to the students at WHS. She is the daughter of an American-born woman who moved to Hiroshima at age 10 and survived the 1945 bombing.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Kimiko Katoaka shares the stories she heard from her mother, a survivor of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima.“My mother was 21 years old,” Katoaka said. “Many relatives died in Hiroshima that day.”

In all, an estimated 66,000 people died as a direct result of the bomb; many more died afterward.

Katoaka’s mother has been lucky. Although she has suffered from thyroid problems for 30 years, she has never been diagnosed with cancer.

“She remembers everything vividly,” Katoaka said. “She sometimes has pain on her face where the fragments of glass remain. She says she has never forgotten the tragic sight of so many injured, burned bodies and the smell of those bodies.”

On behalf of her mother and other survivors, Katoaka issued a simple plea.

“She and I would like to appeal to people in the world that nuclear energy should never be used to make these horrible weapons,” she said.

The two speakers ended their presentation with an invitation for the students. They would be welcome to visit in Hiroshima, Soh said.

Joelle Scrbacic, WHS’s Japanese teacher, was quick to take him up on his invitation. She will be leading a delegation of 10 Wilsonville students to Hiroshima in the summer of 2014, she said.

The Japanese visitors will be making appearances around the area throughout their visit. For information on the Japanese visitors’ schedule, email Sims at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., with “Hiroshima visitors” in the subject line.