Journalist who chronicled Hiroshima devastation inspired naming of Arlington Heights high school

  • War correspondent turned Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist John Hersey visits his Arlington Heights namesake in 1968.

    War correspondent turned Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist John Hersey visits his Arlington Heights namesake in 1968. Daily Herald file photo

Updated 8/7/2020 5:52 PM
Editors note: This story has been updated to reflect a reference to a 2005 Daily Herald article that reported on a note John Hersey had sent a retired teacher before Hersey's death in 1993.

John Hersey, the former war correspondent turned novelist who chronicled the effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in a 1946 article for The New Yorker and later in book form, earned plenty of acclaim.

His awards included the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for his novel "A Bell for Adano"; the Hillman Prize, recognizing writers and journalists' pursuit of social justice, for his 1950 novel "The Wall"; a Navy commendation for helping to evacuate wounded soldiers from Guadalcanal during World War II; and several honorary degrees.


But his greatest recognition came when John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights was named in his honor.

"I cannot think of any honor in all my fortunate life -- and I include the Pulitzer Prize and honorary degrees and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters -- that has had more meaning for me than this one," Hersey said during the school's dedication on Nov. 10, 1968.

Born in China to Methodist missionaries, Hersey had no connection to the school or the Northwest suburbs. However, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 educators admired the writer's accomplishments and his compassion -- he donated the proceeds from the first reprint of his book "Hiroshima" to the Red Cross -- which they believed made him a worthy namesake.

For years, "Hiroshima" was required reading for Hersey students, some of whom wrote to the author, who reportedly wrote back. In a 2005 Daily Herald article, a retired Hersey English teacher recalled receiving a note from the Pulitzer winner gently chiding the teacher for describing the novel as a "historic novel" and pointing out it was a report told "by the tongues of the people themselves."

First published in The New Yorker on Aug. 31, 1946, "Hiroshima" recounts the stories of six people -- a factory clerk, a widow, two doctors, a German priest and a Methodist pastor -- who survived the blast. Hersey later returned to Hiroshima and on July 15, 1985 -- 40 years after the bombing -- The New Yorker published a coda in which Hersey described what became of the survivors.

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