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Messages from Nagasaki

Japanese version

Yoshiharu Tatara (male)
'Kyugo hibaku'  / 17 years old at the time / current resident of Miyazaki

Photographer: Eiichi Matsumoto.
The scenes of the A-bombed city are introduced here. The photographs are not directly connected with the messages.
I will continue to tell the story as long as I live

A testimony from a victim of the atomic bomb.

I have been living in Kunitomi Town, Nagasaki Prefecture for 50 years.I was originally from Gendo-Cho, Miyazaki-City, and went to Ohyodo 3rd Elementary School,graduating from upper elementary school in 1942.It was war time and I used to help out on the farm at home.I received military training once a week.On June 10, 1944, when I was in the 2nd year of youth school, I was drafted and ordered to go to Kawanami Industry's Koyagijima Shipyard in Nagasaki.As with military conscription, during the war we could not refuse such an order.Unlike today, everything from food to clothing was rationed due to shortages.

When I first arrived at the shipyard, two sets of uniforms, two pairs of trousers, and a single pair of Jika Tabi (Japanese Style Work Shoes/Socks) were supplied. It was very common that our clothes weren't washed for three to four days at a time no detergent was available either. I worked overtime until 10 o'clock every night building ships, and at the age of 16 was so exhausted each night that I had no energy left to do anything but sleep. In addition, the sanitation of the place was awful, so we were constantly fighting fleas and lice. Everyday we were given rice with soybeans or kaoliang, and bean curds with rice. That was all we got to sustain our hard labor.

That's enough of my personal background. I will now describe my experience of the atomic bombing. It was a calm and cloudless hot morning on August 9, 1945. I was doing shipbuilding work by the ocean front. Just after 11:00 am, there was a flash like lightning. All of a sudden it was tremendously hot. Then there was a gigantic roar and a blast of wind. Wondering what it was I looked up and saw a huge yellowish pillar of fire rising into the sky. This turned into the infamous mushroom cloud. I didn't know what had happened. I thought a gas tank had exploded, but then the siren sounded, so I ran into the air raid shelter. After a while, we heard that a new type of bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki City. Worried about his family, our leader Mr. Yamamoto immediately left the shelter and went back to Nagasaki City. The rest of us had lunch and then went back to work. About 3 hours later - I recall that it was about 2:00.p.m.- we were told to go to Nagasaki on a rescue mission. We stopped work at the shipyard, assembled at the wharf and went by boat to Nagasaki. At the time nobody knew that the new bomb was an atomic bomb. Koyagijima Shipyard was located on an island, so the only means of transport to the city was by boat.

A company called Kawakomaru had a regular ferry service to the city, so we took one of their boats. When the boat finally arrived at Nagasaki Port we disembarked, but the entire city was a sea of flames and in no condition for us to carry out rescue work. The boat was assailed by hot blasts of wind from the fierce fires. It was filled with smoke, making it almost impossible for us to open our eyes or to breathe. We gave up the idea of helping that day and went back to the Koyagijima Shipyard. Early the next morning, we returned to carry out rescue work. When we arrived in the city, we were shocked to find that it had been burnt to the ground and that nothing was left but smoldering remains. The streets and rivers were piled up with charred corpses. Due to the heat rays the whole city had become a sea of flames. Unable to stand the heat and with nowhere to run, people must have jumped into the rivers and died.

Because of the strong blast, most of the corpses had their innards blown out, or their eye-balls gouged from their sockets. We decided first to look for burnt and injured people lying in air raid shelters. We were told to carry those who couldn't walk to the hospital. We took them to Nagasaki University Hospital, which was the only surviving building in front of Urakami Station. It was built of reinforced concrete, but most of the windows and walls had been blown away. It was wartime, so unlike now we were unable to find vehicles or stretchers. We carried people on the burnt remains of doors, so it was not easy. Nagasaki is very hilly, so luggage was carried by horse and cart. After the atomic bomb was dropped there were lots of horses that had died harnessed to their carts. Even if we took people to the hospital, there were no doctors or nurses, no one to look after them and no medicine to cure their wounds. The hospital was near the hypocenter of the blast, so I presume the staff were all killed or injured.

While carrying the injured, I saw a pregnant lady lying dead on the side of the road with her fetus protruding from her womb. I also saw a person burned to death sitting with his finger pointing at something in the sky like the peace statue in Nagasaki Peace Park. It happened during the heat of August, so people who had been burned and injured were thirsty and asking for water. Given the strength of the blast, it was surprising that most of the plumbing in the city had survived and that most of the taps worked. We picked up Sake bottles from among the wreckage, cleaned them up and filled them with water for the wounded. If they were sleeping, we put the bottles somewhere within reach. While I was carrying an injured person to the hospital, a boy about elementary school age came up to me crying that that he had a stomachache. I was only 17 years old myself, so there was nothing I could do for him. Even to this day, when I look back I still feel terribly sorry for him. I suppose he had lost his parents and siblings and was all alone. He was bawling his eyes out, so I couldn't talk to him much. I still don't know if the boy survived or not. We carried the injured for two days straight, but half of them were dead by the next day.

We could not simply leave the dead where they were, so we gathered the corpses and carried them outside to a vacant lot under the blazing hot sky. We then carried the injured inside. It was summer, so the corpses rotted quickly. At first the stench of the decomposing corpses was terrible, but after a while I didn't notice it. I felt great pity for the hibakusha who died without medical treatment or food, unnoticed by anyone. Most tragic of all were the innocent children who, knowing little of war, died having gone to school in Nagasaki, even though it was summer holidays.

Back to the story again, some of us headed to see our leader, Mr Yamamoto, who had returned home after the bombing. We found him standing still in the midst of the ruins of his home and possessions. His house had been completely burned out. Mr Yamamoto was facing away from us. Seeing his grief-struck figure, Mr Hirano, another group leader, told us all to leave him alone. It would be too sad if he had lost all his family, so we left silently. To this day I do not know what happened to our leader's family.

From the third day, we gathered the corpses, unidentified and burnt black beyond recognition, into a number of places. We piled them onto wooden pillars and boards and set alight to them. But human bodies are hard to burn. A brownish liquid came out of their intestines and their heads and it was very difficult to cremate them down to the bone. Their burning bodies gave off a horrible odor. Being around burning corpses in the heat of August made us thirsty. At the time, we didn't know that we were being exposed to radiation, so we drank water from the faucet every day. It was cool after the fires and tasted pretty good to us. Where we were was the highest place in the city, so we could look down over the entire burnt landscape. There was a shattered shrine gate, so there must have been a shrine there originally. We all had to go there to receive our lunch, which was two rice balls delivered from Koyagijima Shipyard.