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Yoshio Hara, pointing at a map of central Hiroshima, which one of his grandchildren drew based on Hara's descriptions. From front, the hypocenter, Hiroshima castle and the Gion area. (Taken in Yumachi, Tamayu-cho, Matsue City)
Remorse for having kept it a secret for 50 years
Yoshio Hara (male, 87 years old)
Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture
By Amamiya Toru (male)
Yoshio Hara when he was drafted at age eighteen.
Mr. Yoshio Hara, an 87-year-old resident of Matsue City, is chairperson of an A-bomb survivors' group in Shimane Prefecture. For some 50 years he had kept it a secret that he is an A-bomb survivor; but in 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, he began recounting his experience. He now dedicates himself to making sure that the next generation, including second-generation survivors, takes over the activities of his organization. He told us about his path with remorse, saying, "I am in the middle of recovering my lost half-century."
* * *
It was a few days after the atomic bombing. In the scorching sunlight, four soldiers were carrying the dead in silence in Motomachi (present-day Naka Ward) not far from the hypocenter.
Mr. Hara, aged eighteen at the time, saw a woman dead on her stomach in the burned-out ruins. She had a baby in her arms, and both of them were charred. Yet, her baby's widespread fingers remained flesh-colored. The four carefully placed the mother and child on a door panel to keep them together. "It was only for a moment, but I felt like I had restored my humanity," he recalled.
Mr. Hara was born the first child of seven brothers and sisters in Unnan City, Shimane Prefecture. His father, a painter and picture-framer, wanted him to start working early. "I liked to study, so, bowing my head, I asked him to let me go to school." Though the war was intensifying, he kept studying at a normal school to become a teacher.
* * *
In the summer of 1945, however, he received a draft notice. It was August 2 when he joined an engineering brigade stationed on the north side of Hiroshima Castle. He moved not into the main base camp, but into temporary barracks in Gion (present-day Asaminami Ward) some four kilometers [2.5 miles] north of the hypocenter. It was adjacent to an aircraft engine factory, which was surrounded by several-meter-high walls to block the neighbors' view.
On the morning of August 6, he was eating breakfast in a hall of the barracks. Suddenly the entire hall inside was engulfed in yellow light. A few seconds later, he heard a "Bang!" He instantly dived face-down onto the floor, covering his face with his hands. "It sounded as if the earth had been blown apart."
He then went out of the barracks. The factory walls had been leveled to the ground, so he could see the city center of Hiroshima and, far to the south, he saw a huge mushroom cloud rising ominously.
He headed for the bank of the Ota River to the northwest of the barracks. When he got there, he met surging crowds of people from the south. "Soldier, will you help me?" "Give me water." Some people had little more than the clothes on their back. Others were covered in blood. Black clouds appeared overhead and covered them with gray rain.
In the aftermath, he helped in the work of removing the dead in the vicinity of burned-out Motomachi. Some were buried under collapsed houses. Others were half submerged in the fire cistern. They placed the corpses on door panels and loaded them onto military trucks.
"Sometimes I had to push them with my foot or kick them up. Otherwise, I couldn't carry them. I did what I was ordered, even though it was taboo for a person to do such things."
* * *
Some forty days after the atomic bombing, he went home. He returned to school and became a teacher at a junior high school. In the meantime, his former colleagues in the same section passed away one after another. "I had a fear of dying of A-bomb disease sooner or later. I also had a lot of difficulties in living with the experience of Hiroshima."
An atmosphere of discrimination against A-bomb survivors was ever present. There was also a moral tone among some of his fellow veterans who would say, "I refuse to receive any compensation (as an A-bomb victim)." Mr. Hara himself said, "I was a weak-minded man," explaining why he kept it a secret till after he retired from work. It was not until the age of sixty-nine that he finally broke his silence.
With the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in 1995 he thought, "I suppose they'll forgive me now," and got certified as an A-bomb survivor. He joined an A-bomb survivors' group and began recounting his experience at local elementary schools.
Since 2009 when he became chairperson of the prefectural survivors' group, he has worked actively to pass the baton on to the next generation by placing second-generation survivors in senior positions.
"Now we are starting the 'march to zero' when there will be no one left who experienced the war or the A-bomb. I want to dedicate the rest of my life to conveying our hopes as survivors to the next generation and passing the baton on to them."
* Originally published in Japanese in the series "聞きたかったこと [So tell me… about Hiroshima]," The Asahi Shimbun (Hiroshima morning edition), October 1, 2014.