Shigeko 'Sissy' Ferguson, Owasso resident and Hiroshima bomb survivor, dies at 80
BY TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
Thursday, November 22, 2012
11/22/12 at 5:05 AM
OWASSO - Her teacher and most of her classmates lying dead about her, Shigeko Ferguson did the only thing she knew to do.
She started for home.
Although she was badly burned, she could still walk.
Years later, long after she had left both Hiroshima and Japan far behind, the surreal images from that walk remained with her - the burned bodies of the dead, the survivors trying frantically to cool themselves in the river.
What most of the world would see only in newsreel footage - the destructive capacity of the world's first atomic weapon - Ferguson, 13, witnessed firsthand.
And for her, like the rest of the world, nothing was ever going to be the same.
Although she was reunited with her parents, who also had survived, the young girl who had been playing in her schoolyard when "The Bomb" came had bid childhood innocence goodbye forever.
Shigeko Umezaki "Sissy" Ferguson, an Owasso resident who as a native of Japan survived the Hiroshima blast during World War II, died Nov. 17. She was 80.
A graveside service is planned for 1 p.m. Saturday at Floral Haven Memorial Gardens Funeral Home cemetery in Broken Arrow.
There was a great flash - and then everything got very dark.
That was how Ferguson remembered it, the moment the American plane dropped a 9,000-pound atomic bomb dubbed "Little Boy" on her city.
It was 8:15 a.m. Aug. 6, 1945.
Drilled in what to do in event of an atomic attack, Ferguson and her classmates immediately dropped to the ground, some of them piling on top of her.
Most of them, her teacher among them, did not get up again.
Ferguson survived, but her burns were bad, covering two-thirds of her body. Her arms were the worst, with the skin hanging off her fingertips.
The Hiroshima bomb, along with a second bomb dropped three days later on Nagasaki, brought Japan's surrender, and with it, at long last, the end of World War II.
But for Ferguson, the ordeal was just beginning. It took three years and several surgeries to heal from her burns. After they healed, she could not walk, and had to learn how again.
Some things would not heal. Hiroshima remained a painful subject, and even years later, she shared the memories only with people with whom she was close.
"She was very proud, very strong, and in that culture had been trained to keep her emotions inside," said Missy Holady, Ferguson's friend and caregiver.
"She made up her mind that it wasn't going to keep her from living her life."
That commitment to living on her terms wasn't easy. She eventually married an American serviceman, which didn't go over well with her fiercely traditional Japanese family.
Her father disowned her, although her mother stayed in touch through letters, and over the years, Ferguson returned to Japan a few times for visits.
After moving to the United States in 1963, the couple settled in Tulsa.
Ferguson knew little English when they arrived. She got her first job with Kentucky Fried Chicken and always credited it with teaching her the language.
She went on to work for several years cleaning airplanes for American Airlines.
Ferguson's exposure to radiation from the bomb led to a series of health problems, including breast cancer, which required her to have a double mastectomy.
Still, she harbored no resentment against her adopted country.
"She knew that that was war and that was the way it was," Holady said. "She could've gone back to Japan, and would've actually received much better care in the facilities they have there, but she wouldn't do it. She was proud to be an American."
Ferguson is survived by one brother in Japan.
Original Print Headline: Owasso woman survived Hiroshima bomb in 1945
Tim Stanley 918-581-8385
Shigeko "Sissy" Ferguson: "She was very proud, very strong, and in that culture had been trained to keep her emotions inside," her friend and caregiver says. "She made up her mind that it wasn't going to keep her from living her life."