President Obama on Friday embraced a survivor of the 1945 Hiroshima bombing and honored the 140,000 Japanese civilians and soldiers killed in the world’s first atomic attack.
Obama spoke briefly with two elderly survivors at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park after calling for a world free of nuclear weapons, as he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the historic site.
He embraced 79-year-old Shigeaki Mori, who was just 8 years old when the bomb detonated 71 years ago. It is unclear what was said, but Mori shed a few tears as Obama patted him on the back.
He shared laughs with 91-year-old Sunao Tsuboi, who leads a survivors’ group and still bears the scars of the bombing. Tsuboi smiled too as he held the president’s hand and the man pounded his cane on the ground as he spoke.
Ahead of the meeting, Obama spoke to a gathering of officials and survivors, describing the Aug. 6, 1945 attacks as the day “death fell from the sky and the world was changed.”
The president did not apologize for the attack, but instead called for change.
“We have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again,” Obama said. “We are not bound by genetic code to repeat mistakes of the past. We can learn.”
He echoed the message in an inscription written in the museum’s guest book.
“We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons,” Obama wrote.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accompanied Obama throughout his visit to the Japanese city, a testament to the U.S.-Japan alliance. The men walked a path to the museum together before Obama’s remarks.
The president solemnly placed a wreath on a monument at the museum, in memory of the “innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war.”
“Their souls speak to us,” he said. “Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering.”