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For Those Who Pray for Peace
My Friend's Cry Still Rings in My Ears
- Mitsuko Koshimizu (maiden name, Tanaka)
2nd Graduating Class of Hiroshima Jogakuin College of Clothing Design
Residing in Tomakomai City, Hokkaido
On August 6, I was 17. I was commuting from Iwakuni to attend Jogakuin College of Economics. It was a beautiful morning. The sky was permeated in bright blue.
Usually I wore the black long-sleeved school uniform, but strangely this morning I was wearing the pale purple short-sleeved uniform. Now when I look back, I believe this is what saved me from being burned. The train left Yokogawa Station and stopped momentarily in response to the air raid warning, causing me to be late to school. Little did I know that the planes flying overhead during the warning were the scout planes for the atomic bomb.
At school some of the students attended chapel, while others stayed in the classrooms. I went to chapel and sat down in the back of the room. This put me in the position to be able to exit the hall first. (The concrete building crushed the people inside the hall, and most of my classmates were killed instantly or burned to death.) I had just turned the corner in the hallway when a red-blue flash passed as quick as lightning. "Wow, what was that?" I remember saying.
The next thing I knew, I found myself lying under a beam of the collapsed building. I heard someone calling for help. I wondered for a moment whether we were hit directly by a bomb. My friend, who was full of life just seconds ago, was dead under a beam, and I was covered in her blood. I had cuts on my head and elbows.
I must escape, I thought. I struggled in the darkness and finally made it out to the roof. The Assembly Hall and classrooms were flattened and catching fire in places. The fires were growing fast. My friends, who stayed in the classroom, were crushed between desks under the school building and couldn't escape the fire. It was a living hell. My friend called, "Help! Help!" and I tried to pull her out of the rubble, but my strength failed me. There were some who miraculously survived and were running away. I asked them to help, but my poor friend was wedged tightly in between desks. "Please help me! Cut my leg off to save me!" yelled my friend. It was a shrill cry of one facing death. The fire surrounding us was getting closer. I can still hear my friend's voice ringing in my ears. All I could say was, "I'm sorry, I'm really sorry I can't save you." She became silent at my words. Her silence grabbed me and I wasn't able to run away. That moment, one of the male teachers ran by and I called him in desperation. He noticed me and rushed over.
"Teacher, my friend is trapped. I want to help her but her leg is caught and I can't pull her out"
"You should run away, now!" he said, and I left my friend in the care of the teacher. I ran by a female teacher who was covered in blood from her head to her fingertips. I helped her up and fled to Sentei Garden (Shukkeien) with her. The gardens were full of people but we found a space for her to sit down.
There were injured people, burned people, and people unable to move. Everywhere I looked, it was people, people, people in hell. People dead with their heads stuck in the fire cisterns; babies clinging to dead mothers; people trapped in a burning streetcar. Walking over dead bodies, I finally made it to the riverside where the fire couldn't reach. Nearby was a troop of engineering officers, and there were many soldiers lying on their sides. Their hair remained only where the metal helmet protected them. The rest of their bodies were completely burned black, and had it not been for the mark of their helmets you couldn't even tell if they were men or women. They were still alive and breathing faintly.
People had fallen on jagged rocks; one after another, not breathing any longer; the riverbank was filled with people as well. Those who could still speak would state their names and addresses and ask me to notify their families of their conditions. I cannot forget their desperation to communicate with their loved ones they were about to leave behind. I saw many soldiers who had gone mad fall over as they yelled "Mother, Mother!" "Banzai to the Emperor!" We could feel the heat across the river when the old pine tree at a shrine caught fire.
It was an atrocious scene of people asking "Water.Wat…." and others with their burned skin peeling off, dangling from their hands as their skin had become rubber gloves. I traveled up along the river with a few people who were strong enough to walk. People were losing their minds. I saw someone running away holding a large squash. Another was walking with a cow in tow, headed into the city. When I came by the Engineer Troops Camp, the campsite and street were filled with soldiers with their bodies burned black and sprawled out. I passed by, stepping over bodies as I apologized to each of them. A woman walked by with manure barrels balanced from a bar over her shoulders. She was carrying a dead child in each barrel.
There is just no end to the madness I saw. I stopped by a first aid station and received care for my wounds. Then I continued walking for another four to five hours, without even a sip of water. We crossed the river on a boat and arrived at the Kenjo High School for women, where I was told to seek refuge. They fed us some cucumbers grown in their garden. I remember the juicy sweetness of the cucumber quenching my thirst. I savored the delicious vegetable.
Two days later I said goodbye to my friends and left for my home in Iwakuni. I walked all day along the river, careful not to lose my way. Dead bodies of people and cows floated down the river. My ability to think or feel had shut down, and I stared at the bodies numbly. In the evening I finally arrived at Yokogawa Station. Luckily, I made it just in time to board the first evacuation train. The two train cars had standing room only and were filled with refugees of the bomb. I boarded the train and fainted from the sense of relief that I was finally going to get home. Then I heard an announcement over the platform: they were telling people to ask those who had fainted or fallen over in the train to disembark. "Are you all right? Can you stand?" people asked me kindly. I gathered my strength and stood up.
It took me two hours to get home. When I arrived home, I found a candle lit in front of my photograph on the Buddhist altar. My family had assumed I had died, since I hadn't returned home for three days, and they had heard that the whole city of Hiroshima was destroyed. When my mother saw me she grabbed my arms in disbelief, just to make sure she wasn't seeing a ghost. My sisters were also very happy to see me. My father wasn't home because he had gone to Hiroshima to search for me. Despite my injuries, I was overwhelmed with the joy of getting home alive. I thanked God for the blessing of sparing me my life.
When people tell stories, it's not uncommon to exaggerate. It's probably safe to say most tales are larger than life, except for the tales of the atomic bomb. There is no way to inflate the experiences brought on by the atomic bomb. In other words, an atomic bomb is a cruel and dreadful weapon that should not be used, no matter what the reason. Nuclear weapons destroy not only human bodies and hearts, but all of humankind. We must call on the world to abolish nuclear weapons.
I returned to the ruins of my school three months later. Everything had turned to ash, except for the concrete pillars that marked the front gate. I prayed for the souls of many teachers and classmates who lost their lives instantly in the 4,000°C explosion.
In the days that followed I battled the atomic bomb disease, but have since recovered. I give thanks for the life I have today.
… 77 years old