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For Those Who Pray for Peace
The Kindness I Received
- Shimoko Mihara (ｍaiden name, Kawaishi)
54th Graduating Class of Hiroshima Jogakuin High School before the war
Residing in Nishi-ku, Hiroshima City
Back then, we the fourth-year students of Hiroshima Jogakuin High School before the war, worked in three different places as part of the Student Mobilization Workforce: Toyo Kogyo (currently Mazda), Railroad Control Station, and the 2nd General Army Headquarters. The students who were too weak or sick to work at these sites stayed behind in school. I was one of the sick until about a week or two prior to the bombing. Then I was sent to an Army branch office in a temple at Mt. Hijiyama with four other girls from Jogakuin. We were the only students there.
While we there, we took the cremated bones of soldiers who were killed in the battlefields in China and the South Pacific and put them in boxes, after checking the list of names of the deceased. We attended the morning meeting with soldiers and responded to roll call in military fashion: "I, so-and-so, have accepted cleaning duty today! I take with me one bucket…" In the beginning I hesitated yelling out my responses, but I grew more comfortable as I learned that the soldiers were actually very kind. After the morning meeting, we would jog once around the grounds and then begin our day's work. The bones were stored in a cave in Mt. Hiji. We put the bones in an unvarnished wooden box, put the soldier's name in it, and wrapped it in white cloth. Then the surviving families would pick up the remains of their loved ones at a memorial ceremony at the temple. I heard that once in a while the boxes only contained names but no bones.
The soldiers who died at the field hospital had their bones separated from others, but I was shocked to find that the remains of those who died elsewhere were usually grouped together. All day in the cave we would line up a number of boxes according to the list, put the bones in the boxes using chopsticks, write the names down, and wrap them in white cloth. Once we finished a batch of these, we invited the families and handed over the boxes at a funeral at the temple.
I used to stay in the dormitories at Jogakuin, but I had some trouble with the meal situation there, and so I had begun commuting from my uncle's home in Yoshiura. I boarded the 7:05 train at Yoshiura Station on August 6. At that time, the female students used the last train car, while the male students used the first. That morning on the train, I didn't see my friend, Ms. N, and I hesitated to go without her. Once I even got off the train, only to get right back on. Once on the train, I saw Ms. Y, who still attended school on campus. She had been on the train from Kure. I told her that I had to go to school to get a student identification certificate. I needed it in order to reapply for my rail pass that was expiring that day. We walked towards school together, but I stopped when we got to Sakae Bridge. "I really don't want to be late to work. I can come to school during my two-hour lunch break to pick up the certificate. Could you ask the teacher to have it prepared for me?" She accepted my request so I turned around. I took the streetcar to Tsurumi Bridge and headed to the temple.
Later I learned that Ms. Y died in the bomb right after she arrived at school. Had I gone with Ms. Y to school, I probably would have shared the same fate, too. It was terribly sad to hear of her death, since we were from the same hometown and were good friends. We even lived for a while in the dormitories together. I still clearly remember her face and the last conversation we had.
I was wearing my air-raid hood when I got to the temple. Junior Warrant Officer Igawa was telling me that the air raid warning was lifted, and I didn't have to wear the hood any more. Just then, there was a strike of bright blue light similar to that of a photoflash, only much stronger. I covered my eyes with my arm and my surroundings were wrapped in darkness and chaos. When I came to, I was under the rubble of the office. Help came quickly, probably because it was the office of the Western Second Unit. We were rescued from under the rubble.
The blast had thrown my body a couple of meters. Both of my arms were burned and my head was swelling and bleeding from where I had hit a beam. Fortunately, because we were in a temple, there were no windows with glass that could have cut us. It is a miracle I wasn't crushed under the large beam of the old structure. There were many people who were lying on the temple grounds, and many of them seemed to have been killed instantly. I realized that if I had arrived a few minutes later I would have been dead, too. The kind man who always brought the soldier's meals was also being dead at the steps to the main building of the temple. My arms were covered in black dust so I washed them off with water leaking from a broken water pipe. Under the dirt, red flesh was exposed, and that's when I realized that I had been burned. The water stung and I regretted washing my arms.
I couldn't figure out what exactly had happened, but I gathered from my experience of being in the B-29 Kure bombing that a bomb must have been dropped nearby. Ms. N, who took the later train, arrived at the temple, with her whole body covered in burns. "A bomb was dropped when I was waiting for the streetcar at Hiroshima Station," she said. When I said we were evacuating, she said she would stay. She must have been tired from walking all the way from Hiroshima Station in her condition. I said goodbye to her and she stayed behind with a few officers. I don't know what happened to her. But I will never forget the way she looked that day.
A Junior Warrant Officer said he would lead us to safety and took us through Mt. Hijiyama to the eastern military training ground. In Mt. Hijiyama I saw many people who walked around begging for water. Their arms, held up by their chests, were burned, and their skin was peeling off. Their hair was in a wild nest, covered in dust. Their faces were round and swollen. The soldiers, who traveled with us, noticed we were barefoot and got some geta from a house that we walked by in Danbara. I found a wooden stick that I used as a cane since I had twisted my ankle. Once we crossed the Taisho Bridge and arrived at the eastern military training ground, the soldiers left, because they had their military duties to attend to.
I ended up alone with Ms. K, my junior. She was a dorm student and her home in Yanai was too far to travel to. I invited her to come with me to my uncle's house. We didn't know what state the city or the transportation system was in. At the eastern military training ground, there was a horse with burns. It was whining. There were soldiers covered in burns, except for the top of their heads where their helmets had protected them. They were crying in pain. They must have been attending a drill when the bomb was dropped. There was a medical tent and I went in to get treatment, but all they did was put some iodine on my wounds. When I heard the tough-looking soldiers moaning and groaning in pain, I got scared and left the tent. Ms. K and I contemplated camping at the military training ground, until the 2nd General Army Building started to crackle and pop and caught fire. I dragged my aching leg and we followed the flow of people to Toshogu Shrine.
Once there, I found a stream and was just about to take a drink when someone nearby saw my burns and said "Don't drink the water. If you drink the water, you'll die." I told them that I was so thirsty that I didn't care whether I died. I scooped the water in my hands and drank. Then I heard Ms. Makiyo Sasaki, our physical education teacher call out, "Are there any Jogakuin students here?" Her voice was like music to my ears. Seeing my teacher was like meeting God in Hell. She told us to head to Mt. Ushita and asked an Instructor's School student nearby to take us. I don't remember how we got there.
I remembered that in the past I was instructed to evacuate to the training hall in Ushita in the case of an emergency. I was relieved to finally come to a place of safety, when a soldier informed us that the drum barrels there could explode and it was not safe. "We sent the teachers and students away. There's nobody left here. Please evacuate to another site," the soldier said. I was about to break down and cry. I had been holding myself together under so much stress. I didn't know what to do. Just then, the Instructor's School student, who I thought had left, passed by the training hall. He took us through the narrow mountain trails to Hesaka. He really saved my life, and yet I didn't even think to ask for his name. My heart aches when I look back on my rudeness.
By the time we got to Hesaka, the day was just getting dark. I didn't know what time it was, and I remembered hearing the sad whistle of a train. I looked around at the mountains and the flickering lights in the houses. I was new to the place and didn't know where to go. A passerby saw us standing at a loss and asked me where I lived. I told him Kure. "If you go to Kaitaichi Station you will be able to get on a train to Kure from there," he said.
All I wanted was to get to my uncle's house in Yoshiura. Ms. K and I walked to Kaitaichi.
I don't remember the paths we took. We were desperate to get back to my uncle's house, but it was getting dark and we hadn't eaten since morning. Finally we ran out of strength. A car belonging to the Navy was parked and so we asked if by some chance they might be headed to Kure. They told me that they had just come from Kure and were on a relief mission. Disappointed, we just sank to the ground. The Navy Officers felt bad and said that they would have taken us back if they were headed for Kure.
We were just about to give up and spend the night on the street, when a kind passerby offered to walk with us to Kaitaichi. He encouraged us and carried me on his back, part of the way. I nestled up on his back and let him carry me, even though he too was injured. It's possible that the sympathetic Navy Officers asked the kind man to take us. I had no idea where we were, but I remember seeing the Kirin Beer Factory.
The bell for the last train to Kure was ringing when we arrived at Kaitaichi Station. The station attendant rushed us to get on the train, and I didn't get a chance to thank the kind stranger properly. The train was full and people overflowed out to the decks of the cars. The man who carried me spoke a lot during our journey, and I found out that he was a railroad worker.
The neighbors told my uncle that the armory in Mt. Hijiyama had exploded. He figured that I had died, since he didn't find me among the truckloads of injured people that were being brought in town. When we arrived at my uncle's house in the middle of the night, he was making plans with my sister to go in search for me the next day. My cousin and aunt stuck their heads out from the veranda and said, "Is it really Shimoko? How can we be sure you're not a ghost?" I took off my burned monpe pants and took a bath. When I sat down to eat, I was finally able to let my guard down and tears started streaming from my eyes.
There are many serendipitous factors that contributed to my life being saved, despite my proximity to the epicenter of the bomb. I washed the dust off my burns after I was rescued from under the rubble. I drank water and hydrated my body. I didn't know at the time that the ash was contaminated with radiation, and it is possible that if I had been walking around without cleaning myself I may not be here today.
Later, when I spoke to my cousin about how I washed my burns and drank water, he told me that I had given myself the best treatment under those conditions. My sister was a member of Volunteer Service Corps at the medical room of the Navy Munitions Department, so she was able to get some medicine for my burns from a Medical Officer. My mother and sister knew how to care for me, thanks to my father whose specialty was to treat burns. They changed my gauzes daily. I thank God for these little coincidences that saved my life.
Even now when I visit Hesaka (although the appearance of the town is quite different today), or when I see the Kirin Beer factory (which was torn down recently), I vividly remember that day, 60 years ago, when I walked around helplessly. It's amazing how far we as such young girls had walked on an empty stomach. If Ms. K wasn't with me, I may have fallen over long before. I haven't seen her since that day, and my heart fills with gratitude when I think of her.
In conclusion I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart those who extended their kindness to me. I didn't even ask for their names, when I owed my life to them. I wanted to put on the record that in that time of tragedy and chaos, there were many people full of compassion. I also wanted to note that not all Hiroshima Jogakuin students worked at factories, but also at the temple sorting bones.
… 75 years old