After The Horror Of Hiroshima, A Japanese Survivor Made It His Mission To Help American Families

"They just don't want this to happen again."

Shigeaki Mori was just 8 years old on Aug. 6, 1945, when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. 

Mori was on his way to school, about a mile and a half from the site of impact, and was blown off of the bridge he was walking on into the river. For three days, Mori wandered Hiroshima and stayed in a shelter looking for his family, friends and survivors, PRI reported. And for most of his adult life, Mori — now 81 years old — has been trying to tell the story of 12 U.S. airmen, all prisoners of war in Japan, who died in the blast.

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"He had a regular job," Barry Frechette, who directed the film Paper Lanterns about Mori's life and the Americans who died, told A Plus. "He worked nights and weekends to know how to do it. He didn't have to do it, this could have just slipped into history."

Mori, who Frechette described as a history buff and someone with a strong attention to detail, became captivated with the story of the 12 U.S. military members after survivors of the bombing told him about the Americans who had been in jail in Hiroshima. Their planes were shot down during the war. After years of research and interviews, Mori managed to find each of the Americans' families and tell them everything he knew about the end of their lives.

"He's a historian at heart," Frechette said. "At some point, he made the decision, 'I have all the information and I should share it with the family members.'"

In 2016, Mori gained global attention when photographs and video footage of him embracing former President Barack Obama at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park were shared across the world.  

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Frechette has made four trips to Hiroshima to visit Mori, and he said each time he went Mori opened up more and more about why he decided to dedicate so much of his life to digging into this story. Ultimately, Frechette believes it came down to his empathy and desire to be sure that the men were remembered. With permission from the families, Mori has now had all 12 men officially registered as victims of the bombing. 

During the filming of the Paper Lanterns, Frechette brought Susan Brissette Archinski — a steelworker from rural Massachusetts who had never left the United States — all the way to Japan to meet Mori. Archinski is the niece of Normand Brissette, who was a Navy gunner and one of the 12 men killed in the bombing after being shot down in Hiroshima. Frechette described a scene where Archinski and Mori sat down and shared meals, walked through the town, laughed, cried and told stories about their lives together. Frechette said the experience taught him a lot about how these conflicts often leave ordinary people in the shadows. 

Courtesy Paper Lanterns

"We learned that people are people and while there are circumstances that might put them in different situations, you see them start forming a human connection that is hard to put into words," Frechette said.

He described the crew's time in Hiroshima as sometimes "scary" because you don't know what people might think of you or what grudges are still being held. Eventually, though, he found that when he told locals about why they were there they were simply happy the story was being told. 

"In the current political climate, it's so easy to say, 'oh we'll drop a bomb here, we'll drop a bomb there, they had it coming,'" Frechette says. "I think the most important thing is [the Japanese] just don't want this to happen again. They're not looking for apologies or to rewrite history."

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