credit: 509th Operations Group

A week after coming back to D.C. seven years ago, I met someone very interesting at the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) shelter. We became best friends.

I had been staying at another shelter that you put out at 7 a.m. and wanted you back in by 7 p.m. It was hard for me to be fully awake in the morning after all the snoring and hearing people get up at all times of the night to go to the bathroom or whatever. After that moving to a shelter that didn’t make you leave until 10 a.m. was a breath of fresh air. You have time to meditate, to pray, to…breathe. You can get yourself presentable to look for a job, or to take up a trade, or to go to some classes.

That’s where I met 82-year-old Youngja Sherry, or J-Mama to her friends. This World War II survivor has given me permission to share a small part of her story.

She was seven years old when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The Japanese didn’t believe a bomb could kill that many people, so they wouldn’t surrender. J-Mama and her family lived across the street from the Nissan Company, which made cutlery. (It became an auto manufacturer after the war). The day before the bomb was dropped, J-Mama’s mother persuaded her husband to take everyone up into the mountains. (Wise mother!).

When they were allowed to return home, the Nissan plant and their home were gone. There was no water. The only food was brown sugar rationed by the government. They had to go to the Pacific Ocean to get water. A man was so delirious from hunger and thirst that he thought his baby was a pig. He ripped off the baby’s arm and began eating it. Because there were no jails, people committing crimes were put into a deep hole. After the war the prisoners were forgotten. J-Mama said her mother took her there one day. J-Mama looked in the pit and saw nothing but bones. “It looked like they had eaten each other,” she told me.

I never thought I’d become best friends with someone like this!