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Hope branches out in Rogue River park

Photo by Buffy PollockHideko Tamura Snider and arborist Michael Oxendine check out Gingko peace tree at the John F. Fleming Veteran’s Memorial in Rogue River on Thursday.
A Hiroshima Peace Tree was dedicated in John F. Fleming Memorial Park

To those driving past John F. Fleming Memorial Park in Rogue River Thursday, the tiny gingko tree planted along the river may have simply looked like a newly added piece of landscaping.

For those who braved the smoke to gather around its young branches, the tree was a symbol of peace, perseverance and hope.

The event to dedicate a Hiroshima Peace Tree, postponed at the start of the pandemic, was geared toward observing last year’s 75th anniversary of the 1945 dropping of the atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima.

The four-foot tree, grown from the seeds of a massive tree that miraculously survived the horrific bombing, was one of two guests of honor.

The second, another Hiroshima survivor, was 86-year-old Hideko Tamura Snider.

A 10-year-old girl when the 9,000-pound bomb forever changed the course of her life, Snider lost her mother in the blast and watched much of her extended family suffer in its aftermath.

While she would eventually come to America and work for more than four decades as a psychiatric social worker, Snider has also devoted a big part of her life to spreading a message of healing and peace.

In addition to participating each year in the anniversary of the worst day of her own life, she’s visited the Enola Gay, the plane from which the bomb was dropped, wrote a memoir of her experience, “One Sunny Day,” and penned a children’s book, “When a Peace Tree Blooms.”

She founded a nonprofit, One Sunny Day Initiatives, in 2007, and organized local efforts to germinate and grow the seeds of “peace trees,” using seeds from seven trees that survived the blast.

Snider told the audience part of her story and spoke of social contract, forgiveness and choosing good over evil.

“That’s the thing about human beings … there is this impulse to overcome and take over other people, and for retribution. If you keep on with retribution, there would be no end. It would just get bigger and bigger. Bow and arrow, better bow or a poisonous arrow. There is no end to it,” she said.

“A very old text, about two sons, when one did away with the other one, and he asked, ‘But, am I my brother’s keeper?’ I say, resoundingly, yes! We are our brother’s keeper. We are all in this together.”

On hand for Thursday’s dedication was arborist Michael Oxendine, a board member of Oregon Community Trees and one-time landscape supervisor for Southern Oregon University, who told of getting to know Snider and being “in awe” of her positivity despite living through a “horrific event.” Recruited by Snider to grow the peace trees, Oxendine has been on hand for a number of dedications.

“This is the direct descendant of a tree from Peace Park in Hiroshima, which was right next to the epicenter of where the bomb happened. The whole top of the original tree was destroyed and the rest of it burned, but that very next year, right from the base, new sprouts,” Oxendine said.

“It went through radiation and all kinds of stuff. It finally started producing seeds again 20 years ago, and they gathered them so they could be planted as a reminder.”

Rick Kawata of Medford attended the dedication. Kawata had ancestors who immigrated from Japan in the late 1800s and many who enlisted in the famed 442, a Japanese-American combat team.

“We really need more of this kind of thing. Unfortunately, with our times we are living in, there is so much violence,” he said.

“The golden rule is to treat people how you would want to be treated. That would solve a lot of problems if we all followed that.”

Oxendine said Snider has lived an example of forgiveness.

“The most touching part of this for me, and I served in the National Guard and I’m a patriot and love the United States, but hearing Hideko’s story and realizing, deep within myself, that if I was 8 or 9 years old and Japan had dropped the bomb on us, would I dedicate my entire life to peace or would I try and go back to war?” he said.

“That was something profound to me that I really had to do some soul-searching to figure out.”

Having attended dozens of dedications, Snider said, she always offers heartfelt apologies for anyone impacted by Pearl Harbor. Most importantly, she said, anything can be overcome.

“Most of us have not experienced or could realize what it is to be inside a mushroom cloud and then to have to look for your own mother among the dying,” she said.

“It was the most miserable and desperate time of my life, but it also gave me this courage and spiritual conviction that it was possible to overcome. And it is possible.”

She added, “God intended for us to be strong. If we self-pity ourselves, what would happen? If the tree said, ‘Oh, I’m burnt, I can’t make it, what would happen? The almighty source that made life has said, ‘Go and thrive.’ And I believe that we all have to do that.”

For information on the peace trees program or Snider's books, see https://osdinitiatives.com/

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.