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Messages from Hiroshima

Japanese version

Ikuji Oyabu (male)
'others'  / 24 years old at the time / current resident of Aichi

The scenes of the A-bombed city are introduced here. The photographs are not directly connected with the messages. About that day, August 6

It was hot from the morning again. After one of those breezeless nights unique to the Seto Inland Sea area, the summer sun blazed mercilessly. That day, as usual, our squadron had assembled in front of the barracks at 0800 hours and was receiving instructions from the commander. Then suddenly just above the roof of the dock on the wharf, a bright orange flash ran across the sky, soon followed by a thunderous roar.

The buildings around us shook with the roar as if terrified. The commander immediately issued an order to "Take cover!!" and the troops ran at once to their assigned shelters. As the whirl of people subsided, I saw an astonishing sight. It was our commander, kneeling tall and straight on one knee. It was a look of firm resolve, in perfect textbook form. It was just an instant, but I stared at him, mesmerized. His demeanor was something none of us young, immature underlings could hope to attain. It was the kind of thing that made us develop the deep trust we had for him. For some reason, even after fifty years, I remember that particular sight. Getting back to the story, it didn't seem as though there would be another explosion, so we disbanded and all activities were cancelled.

That day, five of us were in the squadron officers' room: Commander Sasagawa (First Combat Lieutenant), First Lieutenant Yano (technical specialist), Second Lieutenant Araki (combat officer), Second Lieutenant Mori (combat officer), and myself, Second Lieutenant (technical specialist). My predecessor, senior technical First Lieutenant Masunari, and Apprentice Officer Ishihara had been dispatched for special cadet training. Officer Inoue, a specialist apprentice, was away at Iwakuni (actually, he was afflicted with dysentery and died in the explosion while being treated at Hiroshima Army Hospital), so none of them were there. (Fifty other apprentice officers receiving training were enrolled in the squadron.)

Naturally, we all talked about the explosion that had just occurred, but no matter what theories we came up with, there was no way we could have come to a conclusion. Then First Lieutenant A, a lively fellow from another unit, came by and said, "Well, this morning when I was in the air defense bunker on the mountain in back, I saw a parachute-like thing fall from a B-bomber, then came the blast, and I landed on my rear and, to add insult to injury, tumbled off the cliff." We all laughed and our mood brightened again, but this account made it clear that the enemy was responsible for this strange explosion, and we fell silent over this new development. About half a year earlier, we had heard a story from Dr. N of Bunri University (now the University of Education), and when we thought that it really had come to pass, we thought of our gloomy future and our shoulders dropped.

On the other hand, our camp had suffered only minor damage. There were absolutely no injuries among any of the members of our corps, with only a crack on the ridge of the second floor of the wooden building. We were 4 kilometers [about 2.5 miles] from the hypocenter, and the crack ran toward Ujina as if some force had pulled it toward the explosion. We received no orders from headquarters. (The Maritime Regiment Headquarters in Ujina, while not totally destroyed, had suffered major damage with numerous casualties and was in no position to give orders.) We couldn't just sit around doing nothing, so our command headquarters decided on its own to form a mixed squadron to get information on the situation in the disaster area and take responsibility for finding and accommodating victims. The Fourth Squadron (Footnote 1) with ten wooden landing ships (called "Daihatsu" for short) served as the core unit, and set off from the wharf at our headquarters carrying troops from various units.

At 0930 hours. After an unbelievably short time, this rescue team returned to base before 11 a.m. There were already many civilians along the banks of the Ota River trying to escape the inferno. Those able to walk on their own hurriedly made their way on board, so there was no need to search through the flames for refugees.

We heard from people who had directly seen the actual site that the explosion had occurred in the center of the city, and that the surrounding area was devastated. Fires started immediately after the explosion and were starting to spread. The majority of people were suffering from burns (which were mistakenly thought to have been caused by fire), we heard, so we thought we could administer first aid and send them home to their families. But we soon discovered that this was a total underestimation. In the meantime, the only place to keep people under a roof was the boathouse I was in charge of, which was Number 2. We scraped up various types of wood that were supposed to be used to build ships and crafted makeshift pillows and benches. Everywhere on the dirt floor we spread out tarps to give people a place to lie down. At this point none of us had even the slightest inkling that we had brought radioactive contaminants into our camp (it was only much later that we found that out) and that we had left some of our men on the Ujina side when we turned back with an overload of passengers. This would turn out to be just a preface to the tragedy about to begin.

Our commander was trying to figure out what to do given the situation. He had figured out that even if reinforcements came, there was absolutely no place in our camp to accommodate wounded people. At the very least he wanted to find some place for those our squadron was to accept, so he gave me orders, "I'm asking you because you're an architect. It doesn't matter where, head toward Kure and find a building we can use." I changed clothes right away and prepared to leave. Some non-commissioned officers, who had just returned from the opposite bank, were hurriedly reporting on what they had seen. They all agreed, "It's damn hot over there." Well, that certainly should have been the case. That fire was no doubt burning at over 2000 degrees Celsius [over 3600 degrees Fahrenheit]. They also were saying that the Military Commander of the newly formed Western Region, Shunroku Hata, was safe since he happened to be on Miyajima Island.

My orderly came to tell me the preparations were complete. This soldier never transferred to any other section since he was assigned here as a recruit and served as my personal aide. Somehow I can't remember his name. We took an extra boat (Footnote 2) (it had been made for training soldiers in woodworking) and headed out to sea. It must have been around 1110. A nearly completed dry dock was located to the south of our camp, the result of a rush construction job. After making a wide turn around it, we were out on the open sea. Since this area was visible to observers, it had never been used for test runs of our secret small assault boats (code name: Maru-re) and it was the first time even for me to go out on these waters. It felt like a field trip. The National Kure train line and one of the national highways winded and twisted through the narrow stretch of plain between the mountains.

Villages dotted the area wherever the plain became a little wider. Just before we got to Koyaura, we saw a large home that did not fit in with the surroundings. We landed on a sand dune straight ahead of us. Asking someone who happened to be there about the house, we found out that it was a vacant sanatorium. We went inside right away too impatient to wait for the manager to appear. Although it looked ancient, we thought it was appropriate for our purpose. We asked the person to get the owner's permission for us to use it, and I told my orderly to climb a pine tree and attach a streamer as a landmark. It's too bad we had no cell phones in those days. I decided to send my orderly back on the boat to the camp to report on what we found. After watching the boat depart leaving a white wake behind it, I went up to the upper floor. I was wearing my full uniform for going out of the camp on official duty, but the heat was too much to bear. I took time to take off my boots. I stripped down and sat, leaning against a pillar. Sure enough, the wind from the sea felt so cool. While looking at the beautiful scenery of the inland sea, the tumult back at the camp somehow seemed far away, and I drifted off to sleep. It was my first relaxation in a long time.

It is extremely rare to have time or space to oneself in the army. I wanted to stay like this forever. But then I realized I hadn't had lunch and I felt really hungry. As 2 p.m. passed, I started wondering if it was really right to just sit there like this and alternately felt irritated about why there was no word from the camp. I couldn't stand it any longer and decided to walk back. I left around 2:30, heading back on the same road toward Kaitaiichi that we had seen from the boat on our way, but the sun shone hot. From time to time cars would hurtle by as if they were being chased by something, giving me a scare. After struggling for over an hour, I finally made it into the village of Yokohama in Saka-cho in Aki. If you turn left, there is a sandy stretch of land barely 50 meters [164 feet] wide that is adjacent to the foot of the hill of our camp. I was given some water at what looked like a fisherman's home. I reached the other side of the mountain at about 4 p.m. No patrols were expected during the day, but a sentry in a small rain shelter saw me climbing up and knew who I was. He saluted me with his gun. His words, "Nothing unusual to report," brought me back to the reality of military discipline at the camp. I returned to headquarters and reported on my mission. I finally took a look at what was going on around me.

The boathouse we were using to temporarily hold civilians had been relatively quiet when I left, but now the scene was quite horrible. When the skin dried up, burns seemed to hurt badly, and some people (especially women and children) cried out in suffering. On the orders of the army doctors (First Lieutenant Doctor Murakoshi and Officer Trainee Sato), the soldiers put castor oil on the burns using cotton held with chopsticks. This apparently helped alleviate the pain of the burns a little. It seemed grotesque to go to the cafeteria and see if there was something left to eat when everyone was so busy, so I decided to hold out until night. More important, I wondered why on earth I had been kept waiting. The higher echelons had apparently decided to put all the injured civilians in one place, the island of Ninoshima, around the time the first team had pulled back (it was the rear guard). That was why no one reported to where I was waiting. On the island were many quarantine facilities where people could sleep. The area was conveniently isolated from the surroundings. It was a bit far, but all in all I thought it was a good choice. Even now I shudder to think what good we could have done for villagers by bringing the odious living hell we humans created with war to that peaceful village my orderly and I had earlier chosen. Learning of transporting the wounded to Ninoshima, I was able to completely forget how I had wasted the day.