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Messages from Nagasaki

Hiroo Kawakami (male)
'Chokubaku'  3.7 km from the hypocenter / 12 years old at the time / current resident of Hyogo

Photographer: Eiichi Matsumoto.
The scenes of the A-bombed city are introduced here. The photographs are not directly connected with the messages.
Keiho Middle School, the Hypocenter

Keiho Middle School was about 700 meters [about 0.4 mile] away from the hypocenter, built on a hilltop in Takenokubo-machi. During the war, the students in the second year and above were mobilized to munitions factories such as the Mitsubishi Arms Factory and Mitsubishi Steelworks. Only the first-year students were at school every day. My friend Kinoshita, who later advised me to acquire an A-Bomb Survivor Health Book and had then been in his second year in school, was exposed to the A-bomb while working at Mitsubishi Steelworks.
Because we first-year students were in school only one year before being mobilized, we had to go to school every day, even on Sundays, during summer vacation. This attack came right in the middle of the first-semester exam week.

As I wrote before, we only had one English exam that day. So everyone was done by ten o'clock and was attacked by the A-bomb on their way home, except those who had stayed at school because of cleaning duty or other personal reasons. The ones who left school first and walked toward the south had gone as far as the Inasa Bridge, about two kilometers [1.2 miles] away from the hypocenter when the bomb hit. The radiation from the A-bomb burned their heads and backs and left permanent keloid scarring, but the injuries were not fatal. Others who had been closer to the hypocenter died on the spot, died after suffering from severe injuries, or died much later due to radioactive poisoning. Among those students, there were only a few who survived unhurt or with only minor injuries.

The next day, August 10, Maruta came by around noon. He said, "Kudo is badly injured, and at home now in critical condition. Let's go visit him." So we went to see our friend Kudo. We were led to the room where he was lying. All the skin we could see had been peeled off and was bright red and swollen. He was breathing faintly but unconscious. We called his name but there was no reaction from him. His mother sobbed as she fanned away the flies that swarmed around his flesh. She told us that he had come home practically crawling. She showed us the clothes he was wearing at that time, which were burned and nearly gone, except the parts that weren't exposed such as under the armpits. What on earth was this special bomb that could cause such damage in a flash of light...? The pale light I had seen in the sky must have been something like a killer beam, I thought. Where and how was Kudo attacked by this lethal weapon that we had never seen before?

On August 12, three days after the A-bomb attack, I decided to go to see my school. I walked the 3-kilometer [about 1.9-mile] school route as usual. The Mitsubishi Hospital was just over the hill. The hospital and surrounding area were crowded with many injured people. Those who were waiting to go in the hospital roamed outside aimlessly. The sharp stench of burned corpses came from a vacant lot nearby. In the area between Mizunoura and the Inasa Bridge, there were a few buildings that had escaped the fires, but all the wooden houses had collapsed and I saw horses crushed dead under those houses.

Beyond the Inasa Bridge, a burned field of ruins spread out before my eyes as far as I could see. Many people might have seen this horrific sight in wartime pictures. When I walked through the burned field and approached my school, I noticed a four- or five-year-old boy crying and following me. Standing in the middle of scattered dead bodies, he told me that he had lost his parents. By this time, I had seen so many corpses and injured people that were tragic and distressing like Kudo that all my feelings had become numb, almost inhuman. My state of mind was like that of soldiers on a battlefield. For so many hours, I had watched such shuddering sights that would make anyone want to turn away. It was really like hell on earth. So, under these horrible circumstances, what could I have done? I was only thirteen. I ran away, leaving the crying child behind alone.

I felt guilty leaving him there, but said to myself, "Soon I will be drafted into the Special Attack Corps anyway. When I join the unit, I will avenge the boy." I thought the time would come in half a year at the earliest.
At Nagasaki Shipyard, they were making small motorboats using plywood. The plan was to load them with a bomb and charge into enemy ships. We used to call it "Maruyon." The boat was not much different from what is used in today's marine sports, easily operated by middle-school students with little training. I had seen the crew training in Nagasaki Bay, and their lodgings were near my house. Once in a while, I would see them on the street. They were dressed in shiny white uniforms and white scarves, and I watched them with admiration. At the same time, however, I also watched them with a sense of sadness. Everyone looked so young―they couldn't be older than the second or third year in middle school―yet they would soon be mobilized in this suicide attack.

After wandering through hell like this, I finally came upon my school, a two-story wooden building. Although it escaped the fire, the frames of the building and everything inside had been blown to pieces. Everything from inside was all piled up where the school used to be, along with the debris.
Although the houses around the school had burned down, my school escaped the fire probably because of its white plastered walls. For a while, I just stood dazedly on the deserted school grounds, feeling growing rage toward the U.S. Army.

I saw a few entrances to air raid shelters while walking along the school route. There were tunnel shelters beneath the school, spreading like a spider web. The students were supposed to evacuate there during air raid warnings. I looked inside one of the shelters and saw most of the evacuees lying there. I couldn't tell if they were dead or alive. Later on, when I looked back on that day, I knew that no matter how brutal the situation had been, there was nothing I could have done at the time.

On the school grounds of the present Nagasaki Nishi High School, there is a stone monument, on which the phrase "indomitable spirit" is engraved, with a hope to be like a revived camphor tree. Every year on August 9, the students of the school who survived the war gather in front of the monument and perform a memorial service, remembering their fellow students whose lives were lost that day. Because the school building had escaped the fire, there was a school register found in the underground shelter that enabled a follow-up with the survivors. It turned out that out of 656 students, 403 were supposedly killed by the atomic bomb that day. The second-year students and older students at the middle school had been exposed to the bomb near the hypocenter where they had been mobilized.

As I walked up to my school, I saw a reinforced concrete building of Chinzeigakuin Middle School on the north side. The upper half of the building had been destroyed. Not a trace remained of all the other buildings in the area, which was completely burned to the ground. Leaving my school, I crossed the bridge over the Urakami River and walked along the tramway. The dead bodies were still left inside the wretched trains. I roamed around the burned-out city; before I knew it, many hours had passed, so I decided to go home, walking past Mitsubishi Steelworks. The steel frames of all the factory buildings had been bent like sugar candy, and the gas tank near Urakami Station was still burning fiercely. When I was walking through the hypocenter, a few ship-borne planes that looked like American Grummans flew by at low altitude. There was no place to hide, so I stayed under the bridge to be ready for the attack. However, there was no strafing. When I thought about it later, I figured that they had probably been checking how much damage they had caused.