U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy today attended a memorial ceremony for victims of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, returning to a city she visited in 1978 with her uncle, then Senator Edward Kennedy.
Kennedy, 56, wore a plastic raincoat and was seated among dignitaries including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the ceremony, NHK public television showed. The commemoration is held every year to honor the 140,000 people killed in the 1945 U.S. nuclear attack on the city.
Kennedy is the second U.S. ambassador to attend the event and has said she hopes President Barack Obama will visit both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the target of the second U.S. atomic bombing on Japan. Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize in part for his work toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.
“This is a day for somber reflection and a renewed commitment to building a more peaceful world,” Kennedy said in a statement released by the U.S. embassy. In a speech at the ceremony, Abe said: “As the only country to have experienced nuclear attacks, we have a duty to bring about a world without nuclear weapons.”
The commemoration came just over a week after the death of the last surviving crew member on the aircraft that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Theodore Van Kirk died at home in Georgia on July 28, the New York Times reported. He said in a 2010 interview with the U.K’s Mirror newspaper he did not regret his mission.
“I have never apologized for what we did to Hiroshima and I never will,” Van Kirk was quoted as saying. “Our mission was to end the Second World War, simple as that.”
Kennedy’s appointment last year was welcomed by many Japanese for bringing a touch of celebrity to Japan’s most important diplomatic relationship. Thousands lined Tokyo streets for a glimpse of the daughter of former President John F. Kennedy when she traveled by horse-drawn carriage to present her credentials to Emperor Akihito in November.
She was later criticized by an aide to Abe for expressing disappointment over the prime minister’s visit in December to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead including convicted war criminals.
In June, Kennedy attended a remembrance ceremony for the 240,000 people who died in the 1945 battle of Okinawa. She described her visits to Hiroshima in 1978 and Nagasaki last year as among the “most memorable days of my life” in an interview with the Mainichi newspaper in May.
“President Obama has long worked to rid the world of nuclear weapons and has achieved significant progress during his time in office,” Kennedy told the Mainichi. “He has said that he would like to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I hope that he gets that opportunity.”