Voices from Hiroshima

Early on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, pilot Paul Tibbets and his crew took off from the Pacific island of Tinian in a B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay. Hours later, they dropped Little Boy, the first atomic bomb used in warfare, on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, on Aug. 9, the U.S. dropped a second nuclear bomb on Nagasaki. Today, the world is still struggling with how to control the weapons unleashed 64 years ago. Nine countries are known or are widely believed to have nuclear weapons capability, with Iran working to develop it. On this anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, we are publishing firsthand testimony from the nuclear era's first victims. The following oral histories, gathered in 1995 as part of a project for the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation and translated by Mitsuru Ohba of Hiroshima City University, have been condensed and edited for clarity. Other witness reports of the bombing can be found at http://www.inicom.com/hibakusha/index.html.

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Akihiro Takahashi

A junior high school student of 14, Akihiro Takahashi was lined up waiting for the morning meeting to begin at his school, less than a mile away from where the bomb fell.

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We saw a B-29 approaching. All of us were looking up at the sky. Then the teachers came out from the school building, and the class leaders gave the command to fall in. That was the moment when the blast came. I was blown about 10 meters. My friends were all knocked down on the ground. Everything collapsed for as far as I could see. I felt the city of Hiroshima had disappeared all of a sudden. Then I looked at myself and found my clothes had turned into rags because of the heat. I was burned at the back of the head, on my back, on both arms and both legs. My skin was peeling and hanging.

Automatically I began to walk, heading west because that was the direction of my home. After a while, I noticed someone calling my name. I looked around and found a friend who lived in my town and was studying at the same school. His name was Yamamoto. He was badly burned too. We walked toward the river, and on the way we saw many victims. I saw a man whose skin was completely peeled off the upper half of his body and a woman whose eyeballs were sticking out. A mother and her baby were lying with skin completely peeled off.

We reached the riverbank at the same moment a fire broke out. We made a narrow escape from the fire. If we had been slower by even one second, we would have been killed by the fire. There was a small wooden bridge left, which had not been destroyed by the blast. I went over to the other side of the river using that bridge. But Yamamoto was not with me anymore. He was lost somewhere.

On the other side, I plunged myself into the water three times. The heat was tremendous. And I felt like my body was burning all over. For my burning body, the cold water of the river was as precious as treasure.

On the way to my house, I ran into an another friend, Tokujiro Hatta. The soles of his feet were badly burned, peeling, with red muscle exposed. Even though I myself was terribly burned, I could not ignore him. I made him crawl using his arms and knees. Next, I made him stand on his heels and I supported him. We walked heading toward my home repeating the two methods. While we were resting because we were so exhausted, I saw my great uncle and great aunt coming toward us. We have a proverb about meeting Buddha in hell. My encounter with my relatives at that time was just like that. They seemed to be the Buddha to me, as I wandered in the living hell.

I was under medical treatment for a year and half before I miraculously recovered. Out of 60 junior high school classmates, only 10 of us are alive today. Yamamoto and Hatta died soon after the blast from acute radiation disease.

I still have to see an ear doctor, an eye doctor, a dermatologist and a surgeon. I feel uneasy about my health every day. On both of my hands, I have keloid scarring. My injury was most serious on my right hand. In 1954, I had surgery that enabled me to move my wrist a little bit. My four fingers are fixed in one position, and my elbow is fixed at 120 degrees and doesn't move.

I'm alive today, though from time to time I question if it is worth living in such hardship and pain. But I tell myself that I must fulfill my mission as a survivor. It is my belief that those who survived must continue to talk about our experiences, to represent the silent voices of those who died in misery.

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Toshiko Saeki

Twenty-six years old at the time of the bombing, Toshiko Saeki was at her parents' home near Hiroshima with her children.

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I remember an airplane appeared from behind the mountains on my left. I thought it was strange to see an airplane flying all by itself. I watched it for a while, then it disappeared. I was wondering what would happen. Then suddenly there came a flash of light. Then I felt some hot mask attacking me. I felt hot.

I lay flat on the ground, trying to escape from the heat. I forgot all about my children for a moment. Then there came a big sound, sliding wooden doors and windows were blown off into the air. I turned around to see what had happened to the house, and part of the ceiling had caved in, burying my sister's child and my child as well. When I saw what the blast had done to the house, which was far away from Hiroshima, I thought that Hiroshima must have been hit very hard. I begged my sister to let me go back to the city to rescue other members of my family.

By the time I started out, it had begun to rain. I went out to the road and saw five or six people coming from the direction of Hiroshima. They were in a horrible condition. They were helping each other, but they were barely making their way. I began to run toward the city at full speed.

As I was running, I saw a naked man running from the opposite direction. This man held a piece of iron over his head as if to hide his face because he had nothing on his body; I felt embarrassed. And I turned my back to him. The man was passing me; then, I don't know why, I ran after him and I asked him to stop for a moment. "Which part of Hiroshima was attacked?" I asked him. The man put down the piece of iron and stared at me. He said, "You're Toshiko, aren't you?" His face was so swollen I couldn't tell whether his eyes were open. He said, "It's me! It's me, Toshiko! You can't tell?" Then I recognized him. He was my second-eldest brother.

He told me he'd been engulfed by flames and barely made his way out. He said that our mother had awakened him that morning and that he was washing up when it happened. He told me that our mother was on the third floor and might have been blown away with the blast. He told me he thought that she must have died.

I finally reached Hiroshima that afternoon. People were trying to find shelter anywhere. When I reached the local elementary school, people were even jammed in the hallways. Everywhere was filled with groans and sobs and cries. Those of us who could move around were carrying dead bodies out of the building. I couldn't identify people by their faces. Trying to find my family, I had to look at their clothing. I couldn't find any of my family, so I went out to the playground. There were four piles of bodies, and I just didn't know what to do. How could I find the bodies of my loved ones in these mounds?

I went to Hiroshima to search almost every day, but I just couldn't find my mother. Finally, on Sept. 6, my elder brother called us together in the living room. He put something wrapped in a cloth on the table we used for meals. My brother said, "Toshiko, unwrap Mother yourself. You've been out there looking for her every day." So I did, expecting to find pieces of her bones. Instead, it was the burned head of my mother. No eyes, no teeth, only a small portion of flesh was left on the back with some hair. And there were also her glasses. The glasses are exhibited now in the Peace Memorial Museum.

After seeing the burned head of our mother, my brother started to say funny things. He told us to bandage him well with white cloths. I asked why, and he said he was going to do some experiment to extract the radioactivity from his body. He told us to leave him alone and not to enter the room unless he cried out for help.

After a while, I peeped in the room. My brother was completely naked. He had stripped all the bandage cloths away. He was lying still in the corner. I thought he was dead. I banged at the door and I cried, "Brother! Brother, don't die!" He woke up and sat on the floor. He told me that the experiment had failed. He looked all right, but he was going crazy. He said, "I've grown bigger. Make an opening in the ceiling. This room is too small, and I can't even stand up."

After the horrible bomb hit Hiroshima, my brother's mind was shattered. War not only destroys things and kills people; it shatters hearts as well.

By the end of August, my hair started to fall out, I vomited blood. My teeth were coming out. And I had a high fever.

Nuclear war has nothing good. Whether you win or lose, it leaves you feeling futile, with only rage and fear about the aftereffects of radioactivity. At times, I have thought I should have died then, that it would have been better. But I must live for the sake of all the people who lost their lives. That's why I relate my experiences, hoping that my talk will discourage people from making war. Our experience must not forgotten.

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Isao Kita

Meteorologist Isao Kita, 33 when the bomb fell, was working at the Hiroshima District Weather Bureau a little more than a mile from where the bomb fell on Aug. 6. He died in 2001.

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At that time, I happened to be receiving the transmission over the wireless. I was in the receiving room, and I noticed the flashing light. It was not really a big flash. But still, it drew my attention. In a few seconds, the heat wave arrived. White clouds spread over the blue sky. It was as if blue morning-glories had suddenly bloomed up in the sky. Then came the heat wave. It was very, very hot. Even though there was a window glass in front of me, I felt as if I was looking directly into a kitchen oven.

By that time, I realized that the bomb had been dropped. As I had been instructed, I pushed aside the chair and lay with my face on the floor, and I started to count. You may feel that I was rather heartless just to start counting. But for we who observed the weather, it is a duty to record the passage of time for various phenomena. So I started counting with the light flash. When I counted to five seconds, I heard the groaning sound. At the same time, the window glass was blown off and the building shook from the bomb blast. So the blast reached that place about five seconds after the explosion.

Outside, a large number of injured persons walked along the path toward the Omi Hospital. They were bleeding all over, and some of them had no clothes. Many of them were carrying people on their shoulders. Looking at the injured, I realized how seriously the town had been damaged. The cloud of the smoke was very tall, but it didn't come in my direction at all. The cloud moved from the ocean toward Hiroshima Station. The smoke from the fire, it was like a screen dividing the city into two parts. The sun was shining brightly just like it was the middle of summer on my side. And behind the cloud on the other side, it was completely dark. Looking toward Hiroshima Station, you could see black rain falling. It stuck on everything. When it fell on trees and leaves, it stayed and turned everything black. When it fell on people's clothing, the clothing turned black. It also stuck on people's hands and feet. And it couldn't be washed off.

The atomic bomb does not discriminate. It kills everyone from little babies to old people. And it's not an easy death. It's a very cruel and very painful way to die. I think that this cannot be allowed to happen again anywhere in the world. I don't say this just because I'm a Japanese atomic bomb survivor. I feel that people all over the world must speak out.

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Yoshitaka Kawamoto

At 13, Yoshitaka Kawamoto was at school when the bomb hit. Before his death in 2002, he led the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

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One of my classmates pointed outside the window, saying, "a B-29 is coming." I began to get up from my chair, looking in the direction that he was pointing. I was not yet upright when it happened. All I can remember was a pale lightning flash for two or three seconds. Then I collapsed.

I don't know much time passed before I came to. It was awful, awful. Smoke was coming in from somewhere above the debris. Sandy dust was flying around. I was trapped and in terrible pain. I couldn't move, not even an inch. I could hear sobs. Someone was calling his mother. Then I heard about 10 of my surviving classmates singing. I remember that.

Those who were still alive began singing the school song. I joined the chorus. We thought that someone would come and help us -- that's why we were singing so loud. But nobody came, and we stopped singing one by one. In the end, I was singing alone.

I felt fear creeping in. I began pushing the debris away little by little, using all my strength. Finally I cleared the things around my head. And with my head sticking out of the debris, I realized the scale of the damage. The sky over Hiroshima was dark. Something like a tornado or a big fireball was storming throughout the city.

I was only injured around my mouth and around my arms. I thought I could make my way out, but I was afraid at the thought of escaping alone. We had military drills every day, and they told us that running away by oneself is an act of cowardice, so I thought I must take somebody along with me.

I crawled over the debris, trying to find someone who was still alive. I found one of my classmates lying alive and held him up in my arms. His skull was cracked open, his flesh was dangling from his head. He had only one eye left, and it was looking right at me. He was mumbling something, but I couldn't understand him.

I held his hand. He started to reach for his notebook in his chest pocket, so I asked him, "Do you want me to take this along to hand it over to your mother?" His body below the waist was crushed, trapped inside of the debris. He told me to go. I could still hear him crying out, saying "Mother, Mother."

By that time, another wing of what used to be the school building had caught on fire. I started to run in the direction of the playground. I turned back, and I saw a classmate looking at me. I still dream about that moment. I felt sorry for him, but it was the last time I ever saw him. As I ran, hands were trying to grab my ankles, they were asking me to take them along. I was only a child then, and I was horrified at so many hands trying to grab me. I was in pain too. It's terrible to say, but I kicked their hands away. I still feel bad about that.

I went to Miyuki Bridge to get some water. At the riverbank, I saw so many people collapsed there. And the small steps to the river were jammed, filled with people pushing their way to the water. I was small, so I pushed toward the river's edge along the small steps. The water was full of dead people. I had to push the bodies aside to drink the muddy water. We didn't know anything about radioactivity at that time. So many bodies were floating away along the stream, I can't find the words to describe it. It was horrible.

Instead of going into the water, I climbed up the riverbank. I couldn't move. I couldn't find my shadow. I looked up. I saw the cloud, the mushroom cloud growing in the sky. It was very bright. It had so much heat inside. It caught the light, and it showed every color of the rainbow. Reflecting on the past, it's strange, but I could say that it was beautiful. Looking at the cloud, I thought I would never be able to see my mother again, I wouldn't be able to see my younger brother again. And then I lost consciousness.

When I came to, it was about 7 in the evening, and I found myself lying on the floor of the warehouse. An old soldier was looking into my face. He gave me a light slap on the cheek and said, "You are a lucky boy." He told me that he had gone with one of the few trucks left to collect the dead bodies at Miyuki Bridge. They were loading bodies, treating them like sacks. They picked me up from the riverbank and threw me on top of the pile. My body slid off and when they grabbed me by the arm to put me back onto the truck, they felt that my pulse was still beating, so they reloaded me onto the truck carrying the survivors.

I couldn't stand for about a year. I was so weak. My hair came out, even the hair in my nose fell out. I lost my eyesight for about three months. But I was only 13, I was still young, and about one year later, I regained my health.

As the director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum today, I deliver my message to the children who visit. I want them to learn about Hiroshima, and when they grow up, I want them to hand down the message to the next generation so that we will not lead mankind to annihilation. That is our responsibility.

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