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For Those Who Pray for Peace
60 Years of Dragging the Shadow of the Atomic Bomb
- Kiyoko Takenaga (maiden name, Takenaga)
55th Graduating Class of Hiroshima Jogakuin High School before the war
Residing in Naka-ku, Hiroshima City
At a little past 8 o'clock in the morning there was a yellow flash and a powerful blast. The blast blew the 2-story building over, but luckily I landed under a desk and wasn't crushed by the weight of the roof. In the darkness I heard my colleagues groan and cry. The building caught on fire and I could hear it crackle and pop. My good friend escaped first, and she said, "I'll come back to rescue you…" Scores of minutes passed but she didn't return. She probably couldn't. I went wild and tore open the ceiling and crawled out.
At that time I was 15 years old and was in the 3rd year of Jogakuin High School. I was assigned to the Treasury Department in the Kyoguchimon area of Kami-hacchobori as a Mobilization Workforce Student. I had just arrived at work. Once I escaped from under the crumbled building, I saw that the town had disappeared and I was surrounded by a sea of fire. People with terrible burns were fleeing and I couldn't believe that this was a scene on earth. Many jumped into the river behind Sentei Garden（Shukkeien） and were being washed down. Black rain started to pour and pillars of fire billowed on the riverbanks.
I finally escaped and took shelter at my friend's house. I grew concerned about my family, and every day I went into the city to look for them. After a week on the scorched field of a city, I was reunited with my father and one of my sisters. We cried with joy that we met and were alive. We were alive!
My father was 48 at the time (died of esophageal cancer in 1963) and was covered with cuts. According to my father, he had escaped to Sentei Garden with my oldest sister, who was 17 years old and a student at Hiroshima Jogakuin College. While he was nursing his cuts that day she passed away. My sister (the third oldest) was a 1st year student of Jogakuin High School and was working at a building demolition site when she suffered full-body burns form the bomb. We found out that she was taken to the aid station at Oko Grade School. She was bleeding endlessly from her nose and her pores until she died silently, without saying "it hurts" even once. How painful it must have been! She had lived about 10 days.
We sent off my youngest sister and the three of us moved to my father's hometown Obayashi (in Asakita-ku of Hiroshima). Suddenly I was plagued by the aftereffects of radiation exposure. When I put a comb to my hair, it fell out in clumps all at once. As a young woman I didn't want to lose my hair, so I stopped combing it. No matter how hard I tried to keep my hair, whenever I touched it by accident, more fell out, and within a week I was almost completely bald. It was truly sad. My youngest sister was still young (1st grade) so she didn't mind losing her hair as much. Her vitality returned even though she was bald, and she would smile when a man from the neighborhood teased her and said, "I could go get a cow's tail for you to put on your head."
All three of us suffered badly from the radiation and we vomited bloody clumps into a basin, and my father had bloody stool for days. The high fever I was experiencing seemed to go away as soon as I threw up the bloody mass. Now that I think back on it, I guess that was my body's way of releasing toxins. I recovered. I heard my aunts speaking in the next room about how they would have to hold three funerals for us. Nobody knew what was wrong with us, and someone said that our symptoms were similar to diphtheria. My cousin, who was a nurse, went to Kure to get shots of blood serum. But as soon as I was given the shot, I could no longer stand up and my skin got infected even after something as trivial as a mosquito bite.
It must have been about 6 months after the bombing. I was losing a lot of weight, my menstruation stopped, and I lost my vitality. On the other hand, my father began to recover his strength and he started taking his bicycle into Hiroshima all the way from Obayashi. He must have been motivated by the thought of rebuilding our family home. By April the next year, he had prepared a small and humble shack for us.
We were happy to have this small shed in the middle of the burned field. My sister ran around our new home in joy. When we looked out at the field, we could see the sea at Ujina in the horizon. But at night it looked as though the sprits of the dead were glowing in the dark rubble. My father found a square piece of wood and carved the words; "Alas, the grave of Takenaga mother and children." We folded our hands in prayer everyday by the grave:
Mother (43, Died in the bomb blast) we still don't know how.
1st born daughter (18, Died while attending work as a Jogakuin College student) after fleeing to Sentei Garden that night.
3rd born daughter (13, Died while attending work as a Hiroshima Jogakuin High School student).
In the rubble that was said to be barren, I found a single brush of oleander blooming with red flowers. I remember feeling like there was hope.
Unfortunately I cannot erase the sad memories from my mind. They continue. After the war, I had to say my final goodbye to my father who ran an ancient art dealing business (he died in 1963 of cancer of the esophagus). And my sister died last year (May of 2004) after fighting cancer for 8 months. I still have a hard time believing that she is actually gone. It seems like she is still alive, somewhere far away…
So, I lost my only flesh and blood and here I am, alone. I'm not sure what I am going to do with the short time I have left to live. I wonder what I will leave behind. I wonder if I will continue to carry the heavy burden of the atomic bomb. Luckily, I am surrounded by my daughter, her husband, and my cute little grandchildren. I do not take my good fortune lightly. I thank the souls of my dead family and those who died in the bombing. I believe I have built my happiness on the foundation of their sacrifices.
Whenever I must part with a family member, I remember how for 60 years I dragged along the fact that our whole family was in the atomic bombing. It is true that I have hesitated to speak about my past since it was such a terrible experience. Now as the 60th anniversary comes along, I am sharing these stories with my children and grandchildren while my memory is still clear. I pray that the light of peace shall continue to shine. I will continue to walk and pray in Peace Park each morning.
… 74 years old