HIROSHIMA, Japan -- A U.S. representative participated for the first time Friday in Japan's annual commemoration of the American atomic bombing of Hiroshima, in a 65th anniversary event that organizers hope will bolster global efforts toward nuclear disarmament.
The site of the world's first A-bomb attack echoed with the choirs of schoolchildren and the solemn ringing of bells Friday as Hiroshima marked its biggest memorial yet. At 8:15 a.m. -- the time the bomb dropped -- a moment of silence was observed.
Hiroshima's mayor welcomed Washington's decision to send U.S. Ambassador John Roos to Friday's commemoration, which began with an offering of water to the 140,000 who died in the first of two nuclear bombings that prompted Japan's surrender in World War II.
"We need to communicate to every corner of the globe the intense yearning of the survivors for the abolition of nuclear weapons," Akiba told the 55,000 people at the ceremony.
Akiba called on the Japanese government to take a leadership role in nuclear disarmament toward "turning a new page in human history."
"I offer my prayers to those who died -- we will not make you be patient much longer."
Along with the U.S., nuclear powers Britain and France also made their first official appearance at the memorial, as well as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Altogether, 74 nations were represented.
Hiroshima was careful to ensure that the memorial -- while honoring the dead -- emphasized a forward-looking approach, focusing not on whether the bombing was justified, but on averting any future nuclear attacks.
Roos said the memorial was a chance to show resolve toward nuclear disarmament, which Obama has emphasized as one of his administration's top objectives.
"For the sake of future generations, we must continue to work together to realize a world without nuclear weapons," Roos said in a statement.
Ban said this year's memorial will send a signal to the world that nuclear weapons must be destroyed.
"Life is short, but memory is long," Ban said. "For many of you, that day endures ... as vivid as the white light that seared the sky, as dark as the black rains that followed."
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty's 190 member countries in May adopted a plan to speed up arms reductions and take further steps toward banning nuclear arms in the Middle East.
The nuclear treaty recognizes five atomic-weapon states -- the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China. India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have also developed nuclear weapons but are not party to the treaty.
Independent analysts estimate the current total world stockpile of nuclear warheads at more than 22,000 -- less than a third the number at the peak of the Cold War in the 1980s but still enough for more than 100,000 Hiroshimas.
About 140,000 people were killed or died within months when the American B-29 "Enola Gay" bombed Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later, about 80,000 people died after the United States also bombed Nagasaki.
Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, ending World War II. To this day, the bombings remain the only time nuclear weapons have been unleashed.
The United States decided to drop the bombs because Washington believed it would hasten the end of the war and avert the need to wage prolonged and bloody land battles on Japan's main island.
Concerns that attending the anniversary ceremony would reopen old wounds had kept the U.S. away until this year.
Katsuko Nishibe, a 61-year-old peace activist, said she welcomed the decision to send Roos, but added that she thought it was dangerous to think that the bombing of Hiroshima was justified.
"We have a very different interpretation of history. But we can disagree about history and still agree that peace is what is important. That is the real lesson of Hiroshima."