It is a gum wrapper, painstakingly folded 33 times by 12-year-old Sadako Sasaki. She used two small pins to form it the day before she died. Now it rests in Wendover, Utah, as a statement about peace.
The wrapper, like 643 other cranes she folded, began as a flat strip. This one is tan. After hours of work, the folding reveals a neck to the side. With the lift of two flaps, two wings appear and a belly surfaces below.
It is February 1955, young Sadako works tirelessly, folding paper cranes. Since her leukemia diagnosis, she is frail but focused. The disease and its treatment ravage her body and weaken her, but her resolve and spirit are strong.
Sadako’s best friend, Chizuko, is the girl’s first hospital visitor. She brought with her paper, scissors and a plan. Chizuko shares with Sadako the Japanese legend: if Sadako would fold 1,000 paper cranes the Gods might grant her a cure.
For Sadako, the folding, the work and hope begin.
Decades pass and this crane had yet to have a final home. The crane is deflated, or at least it appears so. It might be round. The miniature origami is, at most, an inch in all directions. It is too small to tell without magnification.
The crane is a token of peace, good will and friendship.
On Aug. 5, 2017, 63 years later and 5,740 miles away in Wendover, Utah, a Japanese delegation, with Sadako’s nephew, Yuji Sasaki, presented one of Sadako’s completed paper cranes to officials at the Historic Wendover Airfield in Wendover, Utah.
The presentation was monumental in many ways, said HWAF president Jim Petersen.
First, the site of the presentation — the Enola Gay hangar — was the location from which the hangar’s plane and namesake, departed on its mission, arriving at its destination on Aug. 6, 1945, to drop the atomic bomb, named “Little Boy,” on Hiroshima, Japan.
Second, there are only five other U.S. sites where the family has made such a donation, but this site is the only one of the six that was a Manhattan Project site, where plans were carried out to drop the bomb that would stop the war, Petersen stated.
Among the other U.S. crane exhibits are the World Trade Center’s visitor center in New York City, one at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and another at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri.
For Petersen, besides the presentation of the crane itself, there were two other highlights of the ceremony. One was the talk given by Ret. Air Force Col. Edwin P. Hawkins, which Petersen noted was both short, but poignant. Hawkins’ past as a liaison for the U.S. in Japan, where he became a close friend of the Sasaki family, made him also the perfect liaison to facilitate the presentation. His comments at the ceremony carry even further weight because of his ties to both sides.
Hawkins’ gist was that the Japanese and American delegations’ meeting at the Enola Gay hangar was a historical event. This was the first time the two sides — the one who dropped the atomic bomb and the other who were the remaining family members and fellow-citizens of the victims of that bomb — would come together, he said, “not with enmity in their hearts, but with thoughts of reconciliation.”
He acknowledged that Japan still feels “deep pain at the fate of the ones they loved; the other feels pride in the accomplishments of men who they consider heroes. Both strive to keep those memories alive.”
He continued on, saying that what the two countries share are the noble values of “compassion for victims, and the willingness to overcome anger, distrust and hatred toward those who committed the act …”
He further argued that true reconciliation will be two-pronged. It will involve the necessity to “promote mutual understanding and strive for lasting peace.”
According to Hawkins, both elements of the reconciliation are symbolized by Sadako’s paper crane. According to the Wendover Airfield’s website, in Japanese culture, cranes are given to victims as a “symbol of peace … hope and recovery.”
Hawkins explained, “This act, presenting the very paper crane Sadako folded as she lay dying, in memory of the Enola Gay and the Atomic Bombing Group, this simple act speaks powerfully to the power of reconciliation.
“I suspect few will fully appreciate what we witness here today,” he said. “Maybe not now; perhaps in generations to come.”
Also touching to Petersen and many of the attendees was Yuji’s duet that he sang with another Japanese lady. The song was written as a tribute to his Aunt Sadako.
Kathy Hussey, docent for the airfield’s museum, said she spent the better part of the ceremony in tears, especially as Yuji performed the duet.
Hussey, who grew up in Wendover, but who in a previous interview with the Transcript Bulletin stated that she would help deliver items to the base’s barracks to help out the local colonel’s wife, also had a family connection to the base.
Hussey noted that at the ceremonies, the Japanese delegation, including Yuji Sasaki, were friendly, humble, energetic and they all mingled cordially among the audience members.
Petersen was fairly happy with the ceremony’s attendance. There were around 100. The foundation’s three active members were disappointed with the lack of representation from Utah government officials. After inviting the governor, lieutenant governor and state representatives, none showed up.
Gov. Herbert did send a letter stating, ”[the ceremony] was a good thing,” Petersen said.
The board invited many international and national media organizations, including 60 Minutes and Japanese media outlets.
Brad Westwood, of the Utah State Historic Preservation Office, and all three Tooele County commissioners attended. Commissioner Shawn Milne introduced the program.
Petersen said his airfield board saw the crane presentation as an opportunity for the word to spread about what exactly happened at the top-secret base during World War II.
The air base was critical in ending the war and its pilots and support personnel fought in both the European and Asian theatres.
While in Wendover, the Japanese delegation would tour the base and they were also honored at a luncheon by Wendover City officials.
Along with presenting Sadako’s tiny paper crane, the delegation brought crates full of similar paper cranes, which were folded by Japanese school children. They offered these cranes to the museum to present to those who tour the airfield museum.
While Sadako’s crane currently sits behind glass sharing space with other airfield memorabilia, Petersen said the foundation will soon create a display that highlights just this singular crane and make it stand out from the rest of the museum as a key feature.
The crane and its exhibit, over time will continue as a symbol of healing for the two countries. Regardless of fault and motivation, the crane has set the two countries on a conciliatory path.
However, Sadako’s work and her family’s loss has become a bigger metaphor, but that metaphor came with a cost. The day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, was so memorable for her, that even though she was only 2 years old, she remembered its effects.
According to the biography, “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” written by Eleanor Coerr and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1977, she claimed to remember the feeling of the heat of the the detonation touching her face.
Sadako told Chizuko, “… the heat prickled my eyes like needles.”
As Sadako weakened and was unable to fold more cranes, her family and friends exceeded her 1,000 crane goal. By October 1955, they totaled 1,300. She died, that month, just eight months after her diagnosis.
A giant monument sits in Hiroshima, Japan. It is at the Children’s Peace Park. There, a statue towers above. It is of Sadako holding a crane high above her head.
Japanese kids and others from around the world fold thousands of paper cranes each year to donate for placement at Sadako’s statue as a symbol of world peace.
And, now, in Wendover, Utah, at another museum, where a former airfield stands is another relic from Sadako. This airfield, which Jim Petersen and his Historic Wendover Airfield Foundation are restoring bit by bit, is also a piece of World War II metaphor. Here the American military worked to train officers whose efforts by air would halt the growing tyranny in Japan and Germany and bring peace to the world.
In this museum, is a little paper crane folded by a 12-year-old girl, who fought hard to live, who hoped for a miracle that did not come for her. Though she was not cured, perhaps her crane can continue to heal our world and provide hope that peace is worth fighting and dying for, but if at all possible, not at the cost of war.