Japan 1945: A U.S. Marine's Photographs from Ground Zero, by Joe O'Donnell

Project description

Twenty-three year old Marine Corps photographer Joe O’Donnell arrived in occupied Japan in September 1945. His assignment was to document the aftermath of the bombing of Japanese cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The official photographs were turned over to his superiors, never to be seen again. But he also took more than 300 photos of his own. Those negatives were placed in a trunk and not see until 1989. A selection of the photos was first published in japan as 「トランクの中の日本: Japan 1945, Images from the Trunk」, with text by Jennifer Alldredge, translated by Toyoko Hiraoka (Shogakukan, 1995). The English version, Japan 1945: A U.S. Marine’s Photographs from Ground Zero, was published in 2005 by Vanderbilt University Press.

The goal of this current project of the Five College Center for East Asian Studies is to make these photographs available to K-12 educators for use in the classroom. NCTA teacher Ron Eisenman, Rutland, VT, was a personal friend of O’Donnell and his wife, Kimiko Sakai. Through that connection, Kimiko has generously given the Five College Center for East Asian Studies the rights to print thirty-two of the images for pedagogical purposes. Those prints may be borrowed from FCCEAS (see below for more information).  

How to use the photographs in the classroom

Teachers are advised to carefully preview all of the images as some of them may not be suitable for all grade levels.

John Frank, retired IN social studies educator, developed a guide with historical and cultural context information to accompany the thirty-two photos as well as several additional photos found in Japan 1945: A U.S. Marine’s Photographs from Ground Zero.

Ron Eisenman created a set of classroom implementation plans for the high school social studies classroom. Similar lesson plans for the fine arts are currently being produced and will be available in summer 2020.

Please scroll down to find downloadable pdfs of the above materials.

Borrowing the printed images

The Five College Center has a set of all thirty-two images printed on canvas which are available to borrow from our resource library. Borrowers must pay shipping costs, but a limited number of grants to cover one-half of the total postage costs are available to K-12 schools in the U.S. If you are affiliated with a K-12 school in the U.S., please contact fcceas@fivecolleges.edu for more information.

Educators may also purchase and use the book Japan 1945: A U.S. Marine’s Photographs from Ground Zero to teach these lessons.

Below are the images used in the project. 

With gratitude to Kimiko Sakai for making this project possible.

Below are the images used in this project. 

Pages

Joe O'Donnell

Classroom Materials

PDF icon Historical and Contextual Background by John Frank
PDF icon 
Social Studies Classroom Implementation by Ron Eisenman

Additional Resources for Hiroshima and Nagasaki

PDF icon Additional Resources

List of photos in this project

PDF icon Photo list

Recommended Resources

O’Donnell, Joe. Japan 1945: A U.S. Marines Photographs from Ground Zero. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2005. The Joe O’Donnell photographs used in this project, as well as additional 1945-1946 O’Donnell photographs, are found in this book. 

O’Donnell, Joe. “A Straight Path Through Hell.” American Heritage Magazine, 56:3. http://www.americanheritage.com/content/%E2%80%9C-straight-path-through-hell-%E2%80%9D O’Donnell provides additional background and information about the photos in a 2005 American Heritage Magazine article.