Oak Ridge rings in new chapter for city’s International Friendship Bell

BY KATE COIL

Officials with the city of Oak Ridge, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the International Friendship Bell Advisory Committee, Y-12, and others gathered on International Peace Day to begin in a new chapter for a symbol of hope, friendship, and peace that has called the area home for the past 25 years.
A special groundbreaking was held at Oak Ridge’s A.K. Bissell Park for the new Peace Pavilion where the city’s International Friendship Bell will hang. Architect Ziad Demian designed the new Peace Pavilion where the bell will eventually hang after the previous pavilion had to be demolished in 2014 due to extensive water damage. When the pavilion is completed, the bell will again be able to ring.
Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch said the bell is a symbol of reconciliation and peace throughout the world at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new pavilion.
“The Friendship Bell is a powerful symbol of hope, and it is a testament to the fundamental truth that, despite past conflicts, we are stronger together in peace and harmony,” Gooch said. “The Friendship Bell represents a bond of friendship, respect, and unwavering support between Oak Ridge and the people of Japan, and between our two countries. We hear daily of political divisions at home, terrorist threats, military engagements, and wars abroad. The Friendship Bell reminds us in a profound way that, despite war, personal conflicts and political or cultural differences, people of good faith can find common ground, and that reconciliation can be achieved.”
Volunteers raised some $750,000 for the project, including the transportation of the massive bell. Major donors included UT Battelle/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge Associated Universities and CNS – Y-12.
The Oak Ridge Girl Scout Service Unit and the International Friendship Bell Citizens Advisory Committee helped host the event with the Girl Scouts leading in the creation of peace rocks to sit around the bell.
Longtime Oak Ridge resident and International Peace Bell advocate Shigeko Uppuluri has been involved in the project since the beginning. She and her husband came to Oak Ridge in 1963 with Japanese-born Uppuluri working at Oak Ridge National Laboratories since 1976 to help translate Japanese journals as well as build a database containing information on chemicals that can cause cancers and birth defects. She and her husband, Ram Uppuluri, first proposed the bell idea as part of the city’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
“The city asked people to give them ideas to commemorate everlasting peace,” she said. “One side of the relief depicts Tennessee and the other side depicts Japan. The bell has a beautiful sound, and when you hear this bell, it is amazing.”
The traditional Japanese bonsho bell weighs approximately 4 tons and is nearly seven foot tall by five feet wide. It features both ancient Japanese and modern American elements in its designs.
Crafted by Japanese bellmaker Soutetsu Iwasawa, some of the designs came from former Oak Ridge resident Suzanna Harris. The bell features the dates the atomic bombs were dropped in Japan on one side as well as the dates of Pearl Harbor and V-J on the opposite.
Cast in Japan, automaker Honda brought the bell to the U.S. for free so it could be hung in the city. The bell was unloaded in Savannah and brought to Oak Ridge via an ORNL truck. The bell was officially dedicated in 1996 and hung in the park. Oak Ridge was a particularly poignant location for the bell because of its involvement in World War II.
Founded as a production site for the Manhattan Project in 1942, Oak Ridge was known as the “Secret City” because of its involvement in the creation of the atomic bomb. Since then, the city maintains a reputation as a location for the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as science, and technology in general. The city has also worked to promote peace and understanding throughout the world through projects like the International Peace Bell.
One of the ways the city has done this is through partnering with Naka, Ibaraki, Japan as sister cities.
“If Oak Ridge and the people of Japan can reconcile, if Oak Ridge and Naka, Japan, can embrace each other as sister cities, and if the two cities can graciously and lovingly host each others’ middle schoolers, teachers, and officials in an exchange program every year, can any current-day barrier or obstacle be too great for us to overcome,” Gooch said. “I think not.”
Gooch said part of the bell’s purpose is to honor the men and women who worked in Oak Ridge’s secret labs and facilities.
“During our city’s 75th anniversary, we will acknowledge the tens of thousands of the best, brightest, bravest, and most patriotic men and women whose efforts on the battlefields, at Y-12, and at Oak Ridge National Laboratory helped win World War II, the Cold War, maintain our national security, and deliver scientific advances which literally changed the world and enhanced the quality of our life.”
The bell is one of a handful of peace bells across the country and part of a little more than 200 peace parks and monuments in the U.S. Similar Japanese-style peace bells hang outside the United Nations in New York City, and in Maguire Gardens outside the Los Angeles Public Library Main Branch.
Other peace bells include the World Peace Bell in Newport, Ky., and the Korean Bell of Friendship in Angel’s Gate Park in the San Pedro neighborhood of Los Angeles. The bells are often rung on Sept. 21 to celebrate the International Day of Peace.
Gooch said the Oak Ridge bell honors both those who fought for freedom and preserving the ideals of peace and friendship moving forward.
“Going forward, we should heed its clarion call of hope; and honor the service and sacrifice of those upon whose shoulders we stand, by remembering that enemies can become trusted friends; that our strength requires us to seek peace; that with great power comes great responsibility; and that the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of all God’s children around the world are best when shared together,” Gooch said. “If we do, perhaps, it can be said of us on our city’s 100th Anniversary in 2042 that we were good stewards of Oak Ridge’s legacy of hope and friendship, and our community is stronger because of our collective efforts.”