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Messages from Hiroshima

Susumu Hamaguchi (male)
'Nyushi hibaku'  / 18 years old at the time / current resident of Hiroshima

The scenes of the A-bombed city are introduced here. The photographs are not directly connected with the messages. On August 7, too, we started in the truck for rescue activity. On the way, I stopped at Kaita and visited one of my elementary school teachers, Mr. Masaru Kosaka. He was not feeling well, having the back of his head and arms burned. I promised him to come back the next day.

We headed for Hiroshima, but found it impossible for the truck to go beyond Kojin-machi. None of the roads, even big streets with streetcar tracks, were passable. We decided to walk from there, leaving the driver to carry the injured on his own.

Smoke and hot air were still hovering over Hiroshima. The city had been transformed into a mountain of rubble, which made it difficult for us to go forward even on foot. A great number of burned bodies were scattered everywhere. Rivers, too, were full of bodies, since many people had jumped into them to soothe the heat and pain. It was really heartbreaking to see the white and decomposing bodies aimlessly drifting with the flow of the river.

Looking inside the Fukuya Department Store in Hatchobori, I found what I thought were many burned mannequins. It turned out, however, that they were actually the charred remains of young women. I realized that human beings could be reduced to an extremely small size when the fluid inside the body was gone. I also saw bodies piled up on top of one another inside burned streetcars. There were lots of dead horses, too, between Hatchobori and Kamiya-cho.

I saw dozens of legs protruding out of a big manhole at the streetcar stop in Kamiya-cho. I stared in shocked silence, knowing that in their terror, the desperate citizens had spent their last moments futilely diving into the only semblance of shelter they could find.

There had been a large gathering of mustered soldiers at the West Drill Grounds, accompanied by their family members, on August 6. Most of them were killed on the spot due to heat rays and bomb blasts. Their bodies, without a stitch of clothes, looked like dried sardines. When I came nearer, I heard a sickening "plon, plon" sound. Their mouths and noses were spouting gas, which was making noises when it mingled with some fluid like blood. I also saw what looked like balloons trembling in the wind. Looking closer, I realized they were actually their large intestines, exposed by the blast and swelled by gas, which made them look like big round balloons. Most of the bodies lacked eyeballs. It was hard to look squarely at them.

As the stench of death filled the air, I couldn't eat anything though I was famished.

From Kamiya-cho to Takanobashi I saw long lines of bodies with their lunchboxes scattered around them. I heard they had come from neighboring rural areas to provide labor. Their job was to line up and demolish buildings in order to create some open space which would hopefully prevent fire from spreading after the expected air raids.

I hurried to the Army Marine Regiment Headquarters in Ujina, feeling strong anxiety for my brother's safety. On my way I luckily met my father on the Miyuki Bridge. He was walking in sandals, holding leather shoes in his hand. It seemed miraculous to run into him in such a horribly devastated place. He reassured me by saying that my brother was all right, and that he was busy with rescue work. My father was with Fujie Nakatsune. They were looking for her husband, my uncle, Shigeto Nakatsune. I turned back with them and joined in their search.

When we turned back from the Miyuki Bridge, we saw the body of a young woman, who was thought to be a train conductor, dug out of a crushed office building of the Hiroshima Electric Railways. People were making preparations to cremate her.

The corridors of the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital were teeming with injured civilians. The yards, too, were filled with the wounded lying on straw mats. On the left side of the front yard bodies were being cremated one after another. I offered to give a hand, but I had difficulty grasping the bodies' legs, which became very slippery when I touched them because their burned skin easily peeled off. Black smoke rose everywhere in the city as cremation work was under way.

I caught a glimpse of one of my elementary school classmates, Shigetoshi Kadokawa, at the entrance of the West Drill Grounds near Kamiya-cho. I wondered why he ran away like a rabbit when I shouted his name. I ran and caught up with him. When he recognized me, he gave a wry smile. He said he fled because he thought he was being stopped by a military policeman for staying away from the Kure Naval Arsenal without a leave of absence. Soon after, I met another elementary school classmate, Tadaaki Sumimoto. He was looking for his missing younger brother, Shunsaku, a third year student of Shudo Junior High School, who had been mobilized to work in Hiroshima. I helped him with the search, but we could not discover his whereabouts.

I felt sorry for Mr. Kubo, who couldn't find his sister, whom he had been looking for all day long. She was on loan from the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital to the Army Hospital, which were nothing but barracks temporarily set up on the West Drill Grounds in Moto-machi. The truck that Mr. Kubo and I rode in that morning had made two trips to carry the injured to Okukaita Elementary School while we were searching for our missing relatives. On our way back we transported the wounded to the school.

Though I was exhausted by the lack of sleep from the night before and the hard work, I couldn't get a wink of sleep. I was too wired.

August 8 was also a smoldering hot day. I got a permission to go to Hiroshima again from my chief officer. This time I left Yoshiura alone on bicycle. On the way I visited Mr. Kosaka at Kaita again and helped him clear away rubble for a little while. I felt sorry for him; he looked frail with burns on the back of his neck. In Hiroshima, I joined my father in helping my aunt, Fujie Nakatsune, look for her husband, but to no avail.

My brother was engaged in rescue activities in Kamiya-cho, having been sent by the Army Marine Regiment Headquarters. I found him taking care of many injured people in the building next to Sumitomo Bank. Amidst the devastation, we shared a brief moment of delight to be able to see each other in one piece.

On Sunday, the day before the bombing, I had met him in Hiroshima. We visited the Akimoto family in Sakan-cho together and enjoyed their hospitality. After that we dined at Kirin Beer Hall inside the Officers' Club in Hondori. All those images passed before my eyes. I felt as if it had all been a dream. Because the Akimotos' house was close to the hypocenter, the roof tiles had melted down to nothing due to the extremely high temperature of the heat. There was no trace of the family. We couldn't even find their bones. I felt great sorrow, remembering what kind and good people they were.

The Haras lived in Minami Takeya-cho. Mrs. Hara and her son were nowhere to be seen, either.

The city was full of people in the daytime. A great number of people were moving about the ruins. The noise gave me an illusion that we were having a big festival. But in fact, many had been sent to clean up the mess and dispose of the bodies. Others were looking for their missing family members. The stench of death covering the whole city clung all over me to the extent that the odor emitting from my clothes and skin was unbearable.

The debris clearing job was well along. Smoke from cremations could be seen high above the sky throughout the city.

The decaying bodies had become so bloated that they looked like sumo wrestlers. Their mouths and noses contained fluid that looked like blood. The gas spouting from their bodies emitted the dreaded "Plon, plon, plon" noises, which somehow sounded like old toy steamships.

I saw a great number of bodies piled from floor to ceiling inside the Asano Library, which was shaped like a Greek temple. There was a 20-meter [about 65.5-foot, or 22 yard] passage paved with stone from the main street with a streetcar track to the library. My shoes became slippery, smeared with the oily fluid flowing from the bodies onto the passage, and I almost fell down.

In the cemetery behind Shirakamisha Shrine, it was strange to see an ornamental stone wedged between a large headstone and the base, causing the whole gravestone to slant.

There were scores of naked male bodies lying near the shrine. Strangely, their penises were erect, so bloated that they looked like those of horses. While the lower parts of the women were mostly concealed, the men's were left uncovered. I covered their private parts with roof tiles that had escaped the fire.

People scattered when evening came and the city suddenly became desolate.

On the way back, I absentmindedly looked down below Aioi Bridge and found many bodies stuck in the nets between the piers of the bridge. They were moving right to left, up and down, depending on the flow of the river. I will never forget the image of those naked bodies, festered and white, floating on the river.
(Previously published text received 2010)