When the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, it killed more than 70,000 people and injured thousands more. Japanese medical personnel treated many burn victims, but, for some, the scars kept coming back. In 1952, about two dozen young women, shunned by society because of their disfigurement, sought help from Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto of the Nagaragawa Methodist Church. Reverend Tanimoto called them the “Hiroshima Maidens.”
U.S. visitors to Japan, including Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins, learned of the plight of the young women and brought it to the attention of charitable organizations in the United States. They agreed to sponsor the Hiroshima Maidens on a journey to the United States for the most advanced plastic surgery available. Medical doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, including Dr. Arthur J. Barsky, offered their services and the hospital agreed to cover treatment expenses. Two doctors flew to Hiroshima to screen the patients, and U.S. families offered to share their homes while the young women underwent treatment.
When he became aware that the Hiroshima Maidens needed transportation to New York, Kiyoshi Togasaki, president of the Nippon Times, requested an Air Force airlift through the 315th Air Division, which operated U.S. troop carrier organizations in Japan.
The 374th Troop Carrier Wing’s 21st Troop Carrier Squadron used a C–54 Skymaster cargo airplane for the mission. Under the command of Capt. Fred J. Ryan, Jr., the aircraft left Iwakuni AB on May 5, with 25 Hiroshima Maidens, two doctors, and a 10-man crew aboard. Ryan stopped at Hickam AFB in Hawaii and Travis AFB in California before landing at Mitchell AFB in New York on May 9. From there, the young women were taken by ground vehicles to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.
Extensive treatment, involving several operations on some of the patients, produced dramatic improvements in their appearance and physical ability. At the end of 1956, Time magazine published before and after pictures of the most disfigured young woman. With additional treatments for her hands and arms, she was able to pursue a career as a nurse.