Flight of a Sadako Crane

Today’s post comes from Ben Jordi, Public Affairs Specialist in Strategy and Communications, at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

Growing up, Clifton Truman Daniel never talked to his grandfather, Harry S. Truman, about his role in the war or the atomic bombings. “Our family met like any other family: on long weekends and holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. And you were always careful about showing an interest in history or Grandpa would be sure to give you a lengthy history lesson,” says Daniel of his grandfather.

The Truman Presidential Library is filled with history lessons. One such lesson revolves around the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima and three days later, on August 9th, another atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. The aftermath of the bombings left nearly a quarter of a million people dead. Survivors of the bombings were called hibakusha; literally translated as “explosion-affected people.”

"Sadako Crane" donated to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library by her brother, Masahiro Sasaki. The crane is about one inch tall and made from a cellophane wrapper.
“Sadako Crane” donated to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library by her brother, Masahiro Sasaki. The crane is about one inch tall and made from a cellophane wrapper.

When Daniel’s son Wesley was 10, his social studies teacher, Rosemary Barilla, did a series of lessons centered on the children’s book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.  “I came home one night to find Wesley wearing a kimono with sushi and green tea laid out on the coffee table behind him,” recalls Daniel. “The book had appealed to him because there was no happy ending. It was realistic.”

The book tells the true story of two-year-old Sadako Sasaki, who survived the bombing of Hiroshima. Nine years after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Sadako was diagnosed with radiation-induced leukemia.

As she received treatment in the hospital, Sadako followed a Japanese tradition that promised one wish to anyone who folded 1,000 origami paper cranes. Despite folding more than 1,300 tiny paper cranes and wishing for life, Sadako died on October 25, 1955.

Over the years, Daniel has met American veterans who thank him for his grandfather’s choice, a choice they believe saved thousands of American service members’ lives. He also began meeting and speaking with atomic bomb survivors. In 1994, he met Japanese exchange student Shizuka Otani, whose grandfather died in Hiroshima.

After reading a Japanese article written about Daniel, Sadako Sasaki’s brother Masahiro Sasaki called Daniel in 2005 to ask if he would be interested in working together. “I was standing in a woodland clearing in Wisconsin, talking to Masahiro through a translator about his work donating Sadako’s cranes as gestures of peace and healing. It was a little surreal,” says Daniel.

In 2010, Masahiro and Daniel finally met when Masahiro donated one of Sadako’s cranes to the 9/11 Tribute Center in New York City. “Yuji took a tiny paper crane from a plastic box and dropped it into my palm,” recounts Daniel. “He told me it was the last crane Sadako folded before she died. At that point, he and his father asked me if I would attend the memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

Since then, Daniel has worked on a number of programs related to the bombings. He and his son Wesley have collected a series of first-person hibakusha stories, which will eventually be added to the Truman Library’s collection. Seedlings from trees that survived the bombings are being grown at Powell Gardens in Kansas City, to eventually be used to create a memorial garden at the Truman Library. In 2013, when Daniel and Wesley visited Masahiro Sasaki in Fukuoka, they carried a wreath of 1,000 cranes folded by children in Rosemary Barilla’s class at Jamieson Elementary in Chicago. Masahiro laid the wreath at Sadako’s final resting place.

On November 19th, Masahiro will presented one of the last origami cranes folded by Sadako to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. Truman’s eldest grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, and Rosemary Barilla, Wesley’s social studies teacher, attended. Sadako’s nephew, Yuji Sasaki, sang Inori (Prayer). The paper crane will become a permanent part of the Truman Library’s collection.

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