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An American's key role as Hiroshima commemorates atomic bombing (+video)

Steven Leeper oversees Hiroshima's commemoration of the Aug. 6, 1945, dropping of the atomic bomb. The US presence at the memorial ceremony has grown, with even President Truman's grandson in attendance this year.

By Roland KeltsCorrespondent / August 6, 2012

Paper lanterns float along the Motoyasu River in front of the illuminated Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, western Japan, Aug. 6. On Monday, Hiroshima marks the 67th anniversary of the atomic bombing.

Itsuo Inouye/AP

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Tokyo

At 8:15 a.m. on every Aug. 6 since 1952, a moment of silence descends over the Peace Park in Hiroshima, Japan, to commemorate the estimated 200,000 victims of the first atomic bomb deployed in a wartime act of aggression.

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Tens of thousands of people mark the 67th anniversary of the atomic attack on Hiroshima as a rising tide of anti-nuclear sentiment swells in post-Fukushima Japan.

Among the attendees are family members of the deceased, foreign and domestic dignitaries, and visitors from around the world. The silence is signaled by the solemn ringing of a Peace Bell by a bereaved family member and a local schoolgirl. Like the annual 9/11 memorial services in America, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony in Japan, broadcast live and replayed throughout the day, is almost impossible to avoid: a haunting 24-hour reminder both of past horrors and the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation.

Since 2009, when President Obama announced that he sought to visit Hiroshima, stories of a more proactive American engagement with one of history's worst nightmares have grown. In 2010, John Roos became the first US ambassador to attend the ceremony, and he was here again this morning (“very moving and powerful,” he tweeted). Also on hand today were Clifton Truman Daniel, the grandson of President Harry Truman, who authorized the bomb, and Ari Beser, grandson of Jacob Beser, the only person involved in both atomic bomb deployments, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki

They joined an estimated 50,000 visitors from 70 nations for a ceremony and declaration of peace that will be redelivered via live stream this morning at 9:15 EST.

For the past five years, another American seated in the VIP section also has been intimately involved in ensuring that the ceremony goes off without a hitch. Since 2007, Steven Leeper has been chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, responsible for overseeing the annual ceremony, the Hiroshima Peace Museum, and the city’s efforts to communicate its message to the world.

That a citizen of the nation that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima now leads the city’s 100-employee, $18 million peace foundation raises eyebrows.

“Very odd that I as a non-Japanese should be at the very top,” Mr. Leeper admits.  “But I’m not here to tell them how to run things. I’m here to help them rid the world of nuclear weapons.”

First tapped by Hiroshima's former mayor

Leeper was first tapped to join the cause in 2001 by former Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, the best known of the city’s many mayoral advocates of a nuclear weapons ban. Unlike most Japanese politicians, Mr. Akiba is fully bilingual, a graduate of the University of Tokyo and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.  As president of the international organization, Mayors for Peace, he traveled the globe to convey Hiroshima’s plea, leading a delegation of mayors from 61 nations at the United Nations to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2005.

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