RICHLAND — Nonoka Koga was a little shocked when she arrived as an international exchange student at Richland High, home of the Bombers.
There on the gym floor was a big green “R” over a mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb.
The school logo seemed to be everywhere, Koga said.
She is from Fukuoka, Japan, not far from Nagasaki. To her, the mushroom cloud is a reminder of those who lost their lives in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs during World War II.
They died “to ensure the peace we have today,” she said.
But in Richland the mushroom cloud is a point of pride for many students and alumni.
It is a reminder of those who worked long hours near Richland in the barren, dust-blown shrub steppe on a secret mission to produce the plutonium for the atomic weapon dropped on Nagasaki, helping to end the war.
“Proud of the cloud” is a familiar chant.
If Koga had spent the year in Japan rather than Richland, she would have participated with other students in an annual peace day to learn about and reflect on the devastation and terror of the atomic bombing of Japan.
She kept expecting that there would be a school assembly to address such a serious subject, she told the Tri-City Herald.
It didn’t come and she didn’t ask about the mushroom cloud.
She was not fluent enough in English when she arrived to have a serious discussion. She was afraid that she would be bullied or teased if she spoke up.
Koga didn’t discuss her feelings about the mushroom cloud until the atomic bombing came up in her U.S. history class. It prompted her to discuss her perspective with Shawn Murphy, a photography class teacher who had mentored and encouraged her.
With his help she came up with a script and the courage to share her thoughts with her classmates during a recent broadcast on AtomicTV — the school’s morning announcement program.
She’d learned about her classmates’ culture and history over the school year. Now she wanted to share some of her own.
Her grandparents lived about 30 miles from Kokura, where the bomb with Hanford plutonium was planned to be dropped.
But as the plane carrying the “Fat Man” bomb flew over Kokura the cloud cover was heavy and the decision was made to instead bomb the backup site, Nagasaki.
“I am here today because of a cloudy day,” she told her peers in the video.
Her grandparents were safe, but 80,000 civilians — children, women and men — were killed unjustly in Nagasaki, she said.
“Should we have pride in killing innocent people?” she asked in the video. That cloud rising from the ground is made up of what it destroyed, the city and the people, she said.
She heard there were some complaints after the video was shown. But many people, students and teachers, told her they were proud of her.
“We’re just so proud she would stand up and be bold enough to say something that people disagree with,” said Sarah Landon of her host family.
Officially, despite the many mushroom cloud logos, the school’s mascot is the B-17 bomber like the one Hanford workers pitched in with a day’s pay each to buy during the war.
It was a good year, with many friends and memories made, Koga said. She’s OK with being a Bomber.
“I am not trying to change your mascot, but just help you consider a perspective that is more personal,” Koga said.