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Hiroshima man preaches forgiveness after losing brother in A-bombing, son in 9/11 attacks

Tsugio Ito is seen during a memorial service held in front of a monument for students mobilized for the war effort in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on Aug. 6, 2016, with a picture of his brother, Hiroshi, who died weeks after the 1945 bombing. (Mainichi)

HIROSHIMA -- An 81-year-old Hiroshima native who lost his older brother in the atomic bombing 71 years ago and his son in the 9/11 attacks when the World Trade Center collapsed prayed for a world without nuclear weapons or terrorism at the Peace Memorial Ceremony here on Aug. 6. With a special but tragic connection with the United States, he delivers messages of peace not only to younger generations in Japan but also to Americans.

"We must have the heart of forgiveness, not hatred," is what Tsugio Ito, 81, of Hiroshima's Aki Ward, tells Americans and others who come to visit the city, as he shares stories about his experiences with the atomic bomb that the United States dropped on his hometown on Aug. 6, 1945.

Ito was one of those invited to the ceremony on May 27 this year in which U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a speech in front of the Cenotaph for A-bomb Victims as the first sitting U.S. president to visit the city. Ito brought pictures of his late brother, Hiroshi, and late son, Kazushige, to the ceremony, while whispering to Hiroshi in his heart, "Brother, the American leader came to offer you flowers."

When the atomic bomb was dropped at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, Ito was at school, some 12 kilometers away from the bomb's hypocenter, and did not suffer any major injuries. But his older brother, Hiroshi, was at a high school close to where the bomb exploded, and while he appeared to have suffered only minor injuries right after the bombing, he collapsed as soon as he came home and said, "My friends asked for help but I left them to die."

About a week later, Hiroshi's hair had fallen out and his condition worsened. Their mother, tears falling down her face, moistened Hiroshi's lips with water-infused surgical cotton when he asked for water.

Hiroshi died on Sept. 1, after telling Ito to take care of their parents. Though he was only a child, Ito was filled with hatred toward the United States.

Fifty-six years later, on Sept. 11, 2001, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City where Ito's son, Kazushige, a banker, was working at the time. The twin towers collapsed shortly thereafter.

Ito and his wife flew to New York and looked for Kazushige at hospitals. Kazushige was declared dead a year later by the New York state court, but his body has yet to be discovered.

Ito's heart was filled with sorrow and hate, but he came to question himself in 2004 when he was asked to give a talk on his A-bomb experiences at a local elementary school. He wondered whether it was appropriate to talk about peace while holding hatred in his heart.

Upon the request of a U.S.-based organization working on promoting Japan-U.S. exchange, since 2009, Ito has been engaged in an A-bomb storytelling project for American teachers and students who visit Hiroshima.

Though the sorrow will never go away, Ito says, "There are some things only I can do as a person who has a connection (to the atomic bombing and the 9/11 attack) with the United States. By contributing to both Japan and the U.S., I can honor my brother and my son."

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