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In memory of all firefighters : A nice story

 April 7, 2013


Parents of firefighters lost in 3/11, 9/11 share memories



By DAISUKE NAKAI/ Correspondent

NEW YORK--Shintaro and Yoko Abe lost their son, Kenichi, when the 39-year-old volunteer firefighter died trying to help people escape the 2011 tsunami in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture.

New Yorker Lee Ielpi's son, Jonathan, was killed when the 29-year-old firefighter was helping in relief efforts at ground zero after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Separated by an ocean and disasters 10 years apart, the three parents met in the Big Apple on April 5 to offer each other support and discuss the importance of firefighters.

The meeting was the idea of Toshi Shioya, director of a play titled "Hikobae" (New shoots). A joint Japanese-U.S. production, the drama is set in a Soma hospital during the chaotic period after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, when people were scurrying to evacuate to higher ground before the advancing tsunami.

Among the play's characters is a volunteer fire brigade member who urges people to flee, but who himself gets swept away in the waves.

Shioya invited the Abes and Ielpi to attend his play's April 5 performance in New York after he reflected on the similar roles played by firefighters on 9/11 and 3/11.

Yoko Abe, who visited the 9/11 memorial monument in New York with Ielpi, said she realized the parents all shared strong emotional ties.

"I want to live every single day of my life to the fullest," she said.

Ielpi said his son was always eager to help other people--the duty of a firefighter.

A happi coat of the volunteer fire brigade, which Kenichi wore when the tsunami hit, was used as a stage costume during the play's New York performance.

"I dedicate today's performance to the memories of firefighters who perished on 9/11 and 3/11, so that their passion will not be forgotten," Shioya said.

For a related story, visit (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/life_and_death/AJ201303080011)

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