Barack Obama paid moving tribute to victims of the first atomic bomb on Friday, offering a comforting embrace to a tearful man who survived the devastating attack on Hiroshima.
In a ceremony loaded with symbolism, the first sitting U.S. President to visit the city clasped hands with one survivor and hugged another after speaking about the day that marked one of the most terrifying chapters of World War-II.
“71 years ago, death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” Mr. Obama said of a bomb that “demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself”.
Mourning the dead
“Why did we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in the not-so-distant past. We come to mourn the dead,” he said.
As crows called through the hush of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Mr. Obama offered a floral wreath at the cenotaph, pausing in momentary contemplation with his eyes closed and his head lowered.
The site lies in the shadow of a domed building, whose skeleton stands in silent testament to those who perished.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe followed by offering his own wreath and a brief, silent bow.
After both men had spoken, Mr. Obama greeted ageing survivors, embracing Shigeaki Mori (79), who appeared overcome with emotion.
“The President gestured as if he was going to give me a hug, so we hugged,” Mr. Mori told reporters afterwards.
Mr. Obama also chatted with a smiling Sunao Tsuboi (91), who had earlier said he wanted to tell the U.S. President how grateful he was for his visit.
The trip comes more than seven decades after the Enola Gay bomber dropped its deadly atomic payload, dubbed “Little Boy”, over the western Japanese city.
The bombing claimed the lives of 140,000 people.
As expected, Mr. Obama offered no apology for the bombings, having insisted that he would not revisit decisions made by Truman at the close of a brutal war.
As an eternal flame flickered behind him, however, he said leaders had an obligation to “pursue a world without” nuclear weapons.
Shinzo Abe praised the “courage” of the visit, which he said offered hope for a nuclear free future.