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Talking about her experience of the atomic bombing of the Shiroyama Elementary School
A Graduation Ceremony for Fourteen Students
Reiko Miyake(female, born 1926)
By Gen Okada (male, born 1978)
It was mid September 1945. On the walls of the temporary shelters and utility poles remaining in the burned-out, atom-bombed fields appeared handmade bills, made on coarse paper and written with a calligraphy brush. The bills read, "All members of the student body from Shiroyama National Elementary School, let's gather at Hachiman Shrine on September 24th at 10:00 a.m."
Ms. Reiko Miyake, 82 years old, was a teacher at that school (now called Nagasaki City Shiroyama Elementary School). It was she and her colleagues who posted the bills in the vicinity of their ruined school, located 460 meters [about 1/3 mile] away from the hypocenter. They made only thirty copies of the bill, yet they had had difficulty getting even that small amount of paper." Everything had burned up. Anything and everything burned," she said.
The atom bomb took the lives of some fourteen hundred children at her school. The exact number is still unknown. Twenty-eight of her colleagues were also victims of the bomb.
The teachers whose lives were spared made it their mission in life to see to it that the surviving children got an education. "I would have been killed by the atom bomb if not for. . ." Ms. Miyake survived because of two phrases that changed the course of her life.
On the morning of August 8, 1945, the teachers from Shiroyama National Elementary School, including Ms. Miyake, went to weed a rice field in Nagayo Village (present-day Nagayo-cho, Nishisonogi-gun, Nagasaki Prefecture). The school had rented about 19.8 acres [8 hectares] of land in the hope of providing their pupils with some rice to supplement their diets, even if it wasn't very much.
In the afternoon, when she was about to go home after work, Ms. Miyake remembered having left a change of clothes at the school. She rode there on the back of a colleague's bicycle in order to pick it up.
When they arrived at the school, members of the young men's association were carrying in some fifty tatami (straw) mats. In those days, most young men had been inducted into the army. There were only four male teachers left at her school, and they took turns keeping night watch at the school in order to protect the Imperial Portrait, the Imperial Rescript on Education and the school building itself from going up in flames. Someone had pointed out, "It must be tough for only men to have night duty," so the school had purchased tatami mats for the female teachers as well.
Although Ms. Miyake was exhausted from weeding, she helped them carry in the tatami mats. Seeing how tired she was, one of the male teachers called to her. "You can come to work in the afternoon tomorrow. I'll tell the principal." he said. This sentence was the first of two life-changing events for her. The following day, August 9, she intended to get to school by 10:00 a.m. even though she had been told that she could come to work in the afternoon. As it turned out on that day, however, she just could not wake up.
Sometime later the radio reported, "Two U.S. fighters are flying in the sky over Nagasaki." She had a hunch-she didn't know why-but she wanted to see the airplanes. She went out to the veranda and looked in the direction from Inasa-machi toward Urakami, and saw two small shapes over the mountain. Just as she thought, "They could be. . ." her elder sister shouted, "Reiko-chan, there go enemy planes!" This was the second sentence that changed her fate.
Trying to run away, she turned around, managed to move a few meters, and then she felt heat on her back. As she lay low, ducking behind a pillar, and covered her eyes and ears with her hands, she felt heat rays and a blast passing over her body. After everything went quiet, she got up from the floor only to find her house a complete mess. The ceiling was curled back, and the tatami mats were in disarray. She found herself with shards of glass embedded in her arms and face. Whenever she would pull out a piece, blood would spurt from the spot. She removed fourteen pieces in all.
Ms. Miyake almost cried when she walked out of the front door of her house (some 1.8 kilometers [1.1 miles] from the hypocenter). Urakami, which had been green with summer grass until a minute before, had turned into a desert. Word spread among people running around trying to make their escape, "American soldiers are landing in Japan. Women and children will be kidnapped." Ms. Miyake headed for Mount Inasa to take shelter.
As she was struggling to climb the steep hill, somebody reached out to her. The man was with a group of American, Dutch, and British prisoners of war. They had also experienced the atomic bombing, and likewise, were on their way to the mountain for safety. Some had injuries to their arms or face. An American soldier, who should have been scary, was gentle instead. After assisting her up the hill, he ran off to the mountain without saying a word.
The town was in flames, so it was bright even at night. She heard the sound of an explosion up in the dark air and saw handbills falling from the sky. The notice opened with the words, "Japanese citizens are hereby informed," and went on to announce that the U.S. had developed the atomic bomb and would use it to end the war if Japan did not surrender. The bills were scattered by U.S. fighters.
She had believed that Japan would win the war and had taught her pupils so. She felt her entire body go weak.
The following morning, she descended from Mount Inasa and headed for Shiroyama National Elementary School. She walked along the Urakami River, and there saw a woman from whose face the skin had peeled off. Her hair was burned to a crisp, her skin hung down from her arms to her fingertips, and her entire body was bloody red because of the peeled flesh. Under the bridge, six horses on their backs were floating down the river. From where their stomachs had split open, their internal organs had spilled out.
Burned and blackened people were standing in line for water on the stone steps leading down to the river. Young and old alike were groaning, "Water, water." After a person at the front of the line scooped a handful of water from the river and sipped it, that person never lifted his or her head again. All of them would let themselves fall into the river. The next person in line would take a sip and fall into the river. Another and yet another followed in turn. She gazed at this scene for a while.
She arrived at her school after a forty-minute walk. The three-story reinforced concrete building with its fancy round windows, which once had been known as "the best school building in Kyushu," had been reduced to nothing but walls. When she went into the teachers' office, she found neither desks nor chairs-there was nothing at all. From the principal's office she heard the groans of someone calling for help.