Walter Hooke was a U.S. Marine when he arrived in Nagasaki in October 1945, about two months after the city's atomic bombing.

During his stay, the devout Catholic was befriended by the bishop of Nagasaki, and during one of their outings in the ruined city they came across a wooden cross in the debris of the Urakami Cathedral.

The bishop presented him with the artifact, possibly hoping it might serve as a symbol to change American perceptions about the justification for the bombing that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Over the years, Hooke felt deep anguish at having this religious symbol in his possession and having survived a conflict that left so many people dead.

All these years later, the cross is finally coming home to Nagasaki.

“One of the things that always really bothered my father was that a Christian country bombed a cathedral that was a center of Christianity in Asia,” said Hooke's son Christopher, 69, at his home in Yonkers, New York.

“There was absolutely no strategic value in the bombing of Nagasaki. I think that was the point,” Christopher said.

After the war, the family moved several times. Christopher vividly recalled that his father always mounted the cross alongside photos of his fellow Marines in the living room.

The artifact is about 1 meter tall with gold-colored trim and a flower emblem.

Hooke was befriended by Aijiro Yamaguchi, then the bishop of Nagasaki, while he was stationed in the city.

According to Christopher, the bishop later presented Hooke with the cross, which he sent to his mother in New York.

Their friendship continued even after Hooke left Japan.

“Never mind more about the war damage made on our city,” Yamaguchi wrote in a letter to Hooke in April 1961.

“For, it has been completely repaired and rather biggerly (sic) and nicely rebuilt than before, so as it is difficult to find now some trace of the atomic bomb,” Yamaguchi, by then elevated to archbishop of Nagaski, wrote in the letter that Hooke’s bereaved family kept.

FEELINGS OF GUILT UNTIL THE END

In 1982, Hooke donated the cross to the Peace Resource Center at Wilmington College in Ohio, according to the center’s records.

Precisely why remains unclear, even to his son.

Christopher, recalling that the cross was always displayed side by side with photos of fellow Marines, said his father was deeply pained by the deaths of his fellow Marine and also "felt guilty that he was never hurt at all.”

Christopher said his father was very affected by the destruction he encountered in Nagasaki due to the Aug. 9, 1945, atomic bombing.

“He talked about 'double pain,’" the son said. "It was a really heavy role that he lived with his entire life.”

From the late 1970s, Hooke became actively involved in a movement to support veterans who campaigned for financial assistance for health problems due to radiation exposure while stationed in Nagasaki.

After the war, the soldiers who were with Hooke in Nagasaki died of cancer, one after another.

That prompted Hooke to champion the veterans' cause and work with their bereaved families to demand compensation from the government.

According to a document titled, “Hearing before the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs United States Senate, Ninety-Eighth Congress, First Session, April 6, 1983,” more than 220,000 U.S. military personnel were exposed to radiation.

The cases involved those who were stationed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as those present at nuclear test sites in Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean and the Nevada desert.

Hooke was so passionate about the issue that he penned a letter to President Ronald Reagan.

In the missive dated May 16, 1988, Hooke wrote: “As a veteran of the Marine Corps occupation of Nagasaki, I am well acquainted with the denial and concealment employed by a government that exposed members of the services to the then well known dangers of Ionizing Radiation.”

Hooke underlined the words “ionizing radiation.”

On May 20, 1988, just four days after Hooke sent the letter, Reagan signed the Radiation-Exposed Veteran’s Compensation Act.

Hooke died in 2010 at the age of 97.

SYMBOLIC CROSS COMING HOME

The wooden cross that Hooke cherished will be returned to Japan on Aug. 7, two days ahead of the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, and once again be displayed at the Urakami Cathedral.

Mitsuaki Takami, the 73-year-old archbishop of Nagasaki, is eagerly awaiting its return.

According to Takami, no records survive to confirm whether the cross was actually in the cathedral when the atomic bomb detonated.

But based on the shape of the cross and other features, Takami said he thinks it was kept standing in a room used to prepare for Mass.

Other evidence supports this theory.

A monochrome picture taken by Asahi Shimbun photographer Eiichi Matsumoto in September 1945 captures a cross that bears a striking resemblance to the artifact.

Matsumoto, who is now deceased, arrived in Nagasaki about two weeks after the bombing. The picture shows a cross against a backdrop of the ruins of the cathedral.

Takami was exposed to radiation as a fetus.

He believes that Yamaguchi probably hoped that Hooke and the cross would play a role in informing people in the United States about the horrors of the atomic bombing in Nagasaki.

“I want to exhibit the cross as an ‘atomic-bombed cross’ at a facility near the cathedral after it returns,” Takami said.

Tanya Maus, who heads the center in Ohio, will accompany to artifact on the flight back to Japan.

Maus will visit Nagasaki for this year’s Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Victims Memorial Peace Prayer Ceremony on Aug. 9.

Ahead of the ceremony, she will visit the cathedral to hand the cross to Takami in person.

The artifact has been displayed on a wall in a room on the second floor of the center that was established in 1975 by the late Barbara Reynolds, a famed American anti-nuclear activist who died in 1990.

“This cross is one of the few pieces from the Urakami Cathedral to survive the bombing. I increasingly felt the cross should be returned to Urakami. It wasn’t really ours,” Maus said of the decision to hand it back. “I think we have to keep the conversation about the atomic bombings alive in the United States.”

Maus said she wasn't sure that returning the cross to Nagasaki would serve as a defining moment in altering the American mind-set that the atomic bombings actually saved many lives by hastening the end of the war.

"But it’s just one more piece that keeps the conversation alive until we’re at a point when our country can shift its perspectives and understand how inhumane and destructive nuclear weapons are,” Maus said.