Kaz Suyeishi will never forget the quiet peace of that cloudless August morning in 1945.
The 18-year-old was in the front garden of her Hiroshima home, chatting with a friend, when a gleam of silver in the sky caught her attention.
"It looked like an angel," she said. "It was the most beautiful airplane. It looked like heaven and peace."
The plane was the Enola Gay, dropping the world's first atomic bomb over the Japanese city. That morning, the B-29 released the weapon known as "Little Boy." The flash of silver disappeared, replaced by a white spot in the blue sky.
"That little bomb changed heaven to hell," recalled Suyeishi, now 71. "The sky changed to gray. Then red. Then black. It destroyed everything, even the innocent little children."
On Sunday, 53 years after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki--Suyeishi and other survivors gathered in the Koyasan Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo to commemorate the anniversary and preserve the memory of the fallout.
Although death counts vary, it is estimated that at least 210,000 people died in the two blasts. Hiroshima was hit on Aug. 6; Nagasaki on Aug. 9; Japan agreed to surrender on Aug. 14. Meanwhile, both cities were incinerated, homes flattened, structures leveled. The poisonous effects of radiation still haunt the hibakusha, the A-bomb survivors.
Suyeishi, who suffered radiation sickness after the bombing, was one of the lucky ones. She lived. The Pasadena-born woman who grew up in Japan dedicated the rest of her life to spreading a message of peace.
"You can't see the scars here," she said, pointing to her face, "but I am scarred in here," tapping her chest. "I don't want anybody to go through what I went through. I never want it to happen again."
Bells rang and incense burned as about 50 participants at the memorial service recalled the legacies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
With prayers, songs and speeches, ministers and survivors spoke of the destruction of nuclear war and the grief that accompanies those who witness the horrors of the aftermath.
"The tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has not come to an end," Bishop Taisen Miyata said, citing the recent nuclear tests in India and Pakistan. "On this special memorial day, we have gathered to pray for peace."
Suyeishi gave small red votives to survivors and other attendees, who silently placed them in front of the gold lantern of the Hiroshima Peace Flame at the head of the temple. The flame was brought from Hiroshima to Los Angeles nine years ago and then-Mayor Tom Bradley asked the temple to maintain it for the city.
Two children held up a banner that read, "Rest in Peace. We Will Not Repeat the Same Mistake Again." The same words are carved into the stone of the Hiroshima peace monument.
Junji Sarashina, 68, was working at a factory two miles from Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. He was thrown to the ground and covered in rubble. Of his 250-person freshman class in high school, 240 died in the explosion.
"The memorial service is a good way to express our feelings," said the Hawaiian-born Sarashina, who returned to the United States in 1949. "The survivors are getting older now. After 53 years, the young people hardly talk about it anymore. You can't force people to remember it. It has to come from the heart."
Some younger people who participated in Sunday's ceremony said they hope to alleviate the survivors' fears that the stories of the bombings will be forgotten.
Musician Ryan Oba, 33, first heard Suyeishi speak 12 years ago; then a student at UCLA, he was so moved by her account that he composed a song about her watching the bomb drop. He called it "Little Boy and Little Girl." "I couldn't get it out of my head," Oba said. "She was expecting to see beauty, and then it was the Enola Gay. For me, it's important that she knows the next generation won't forget. Music in a small way helps preserve it."
On Sunday, his song closed the memorial ceremony.
"I am so proud that my weak voice is teaching people, one by one," said Suyeishi, who began crying as the music filled the temple. "That song is my peace message."
She wiped her eyes and sang along softly:
"The sky was clearer than clear should be. The crew had unlimited visibility. As if the heavens wanted everyone to see how great the anger of a Little Boy could be.
"I wonder why it's here? Can't you see it Mother, coming near? Please carry me. Lift me higher up so I can see!
"The bay swings open. Now he's away! Tell the folks back home a little boy went out to play. No more war. There's nothing to fight. All we're seeing are a million points of light.
"Nothing but light, nothing but light . . .
"We're nothing, nothing but light."