|Written by Sachiko Masuoka|
|Wednesday, 26 May 2010 10:47|
This is a story previously told by Sachiko Masuoka about living through the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
I would like to welcome all of you. Thank you for the introduction. My name is Sachiko Masuoka.
I would like to speak to you as I remember my experience when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima 63 years ago.
At 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, we were all lined up for the morning ceremony, as all Japanese schoolchildren do. At that moment, the bomb was dropped. When I heard the sound of the explosion, I looked up at the sky, and I saw a beautiful blue sky, and I also saw the white trails from airplane exhaust. At that very moment, a bright light shone and I felt something hot on my cheek. Without thinking I covered my face. My school was about 3.5 kilometers from the center of the explosion.
The glass of the windows was blown out because of the strong force from the bomb. I saw some people walking around the school with bloody faces. I realized that they were injured by flying pieces of glass. I had no idea what had happened. We were all dismissed and ordered to go home. However, in the direction of my house there hung a cloud of black smoke.
When I stood at the entrance gate of our school, I saw many people who were fleeing. We asked where the bomb was dropped, but everybody named different parts of town. I learned later the reason was that so many different areas were destroyed simultaneously.
It was impossible to go home. I thought of going to my grandmother’s house which was located in the suburbs. The center of the city was still covered with smoke, so I decided to walk to where the fire was already extinguished.
It was difficult to walk because there were so many people on the ground who were injured. Some people were groaning, some were crying out with pain, some heard our footsteps and just looked up at us. There was not one person who was wearing their entire clothing. Some clothes were torn, some were burnt, but the vast majority of the people had nothing on. The entire city was filled with people like that.
Even among those people who were walking, most of them were covered with rags. Some people were complaining about being cold and covered themselves with futon. This is what I learned later, that when you lose your skin, you are no longer able to adjust your body temperature. I saw some people whose eyeballs were protruded by the force of the bomb.
I saw numerous fighter planes in the sky, flying so low. Of course it was still during the war, so they might still drop more bombs. There was absolutely no place to retreat from more bombing. We saw only the mountains of broken bricks and torn houses. However, there was not another bombing. If they decided to shoot us, a lot more people would have perished.
Just recently I had an opportunity to read a book, “Mail Delivery in Nagasaki”, written by a British author. In that book, at midnight on the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, the American planes rained down with bullets. I never knew that until I read this.
To my left and to my right, the people who were injured and burnt beyond recognition kept walking without a word. The ones that could walk were better off. Others were covered with burns and lay on the road.
I have no idea how many hours I walked under the blazing summer sun, but before the sundown, I finally reached my grandmother's house. Everyone was so happy to see me and welcomed me.
The early morning of the following day, my father, who came home late the previous night, and I went to look for the rest of the family. There were no buses, nor trains, so we walked.
Once we reached the city limit, as far as we could see there was nothing left. Everything was totally destroyed. There were only mountains of debris. Not only that, there were people laying everywhere. They were all naked. At that time, I didn't notice the burns on their bodies. Most of the people were still alive. As soon as they heard our footsteps, they looked up at us but they were too weak to utter a word. I think some of the people did not die instantly, even though they were close to the epicenter. There was nothing we could do for them. There was absolutely no medical help available. Where the rail line used to be, there was a dead body laying on top of a pile of debris.
We walked all day long but we could not find our family, so we decided to go back. On the way back to grandma's house, we saw a horse on the bridge by the current site of the Atomic Dome. It was swollen to three times its original size. In addition to the dead horses, there were many bodies were all over the place.
When I saw the river from the bridge, it was filled with more than 100 dead bodies. The river used to be so clean and we were able to see the bottom of the river. I saw a drowned woman in a strange position because of her long hair.
There was a boat by the riverside. We saw a person leaning against the boat, so we went down to see, but we found that he or she was already dead. There were bodies all over the place. It was full tide, so many of the bodies sank to the bottom of the river.
Normally no one goes to the river on Monday morning, so those people were trying to escape the fierce fire or seeking water to cool off the burns and they must have gone to the river. Though I was getting used to seeing the dead bodies, the scene made me not only close my eyes, but it made me cry. I prayed for them.
In October of this year, I went back to Japan and I went to the Peace Park almost every day. Everything was so orderly and beautiful. There was not even a suggestion of what it was like then. Where we saw a boat, steps had been built, so I sat on the step and looked at the surface of the water. That brought back the memories so vividly. I could not stop crying.
When we passed by the river again on the way home, those who were still alive in the morning were all dead. Even at that time, there was absolutely no medical help.
That night (the 7th), mother came home late in the evening and told us about the death of my younger sister, who was 14 years old. She was at the school grounds for the opening ceremony at the nearby junior high. The school was near the epicenter. After the bright lightning flash (pikka), the surroundings became dark. While one wondered what to do, the flash came again. At that time, everyone was around, so it was a relief that she did not die alone. But when the second flash happened, her clothes caught on fire. She desperately tried to extinguish the fire with her own hands. Her uniform was completely burned and the hand she used to extinguish the fire sustained a severe burn. The skin was just hanging. Mom found her body wearing only panties. Perhaps the ray hit her from the back, because her face sustained no burns. I was told she was beautiful.
Even in that condition, she went home. Of course, the house was completely destroyed. At that time we all carried what we called an emergency bag. In it we had the first aid kits, identification cards and other important documents. Everyone was required to carry it. The neighbor saw her and she was carrying that bag with the finger tip where her skin hung. Since her panties were burnt, she was too ashamed to walk home. She probably stayed where she was and died there.
My mother was transporting luggage for evacuation and she was pretty close to the epicenter. All her hair stood up at once. We have a saying that when you see something very frightening, your hair stands up. She had to use a bandage to keep her hair down. It started raining black drops and it became very cold.
My mother also hurried back to our house. When she was very near the house, the neighbor told her that my younger sister was standing by the shrine. So she turned and hurried back to the shrine and another neighbor told her that Yuri-chan was sitting in front of the shrine. She was so weakened that she could not stand. By the time my Mother got to the shrine, emergency personnel were loading her in the truck. Her entire body was burnt, so there is no place to grab. The only place that was not burned was under her arms, so the rescue people put their hands under her arms and mother put her hand on her bottom over her panties, and finally they were able to get her into the truck.
It was a miracle that my mother and my younger sister were able to meet each other in that chaos. If my mother got there a minute later, the truck would have left and my mother wouldn't ever have been able to see her daughter forever again.
The two of them were carried to the auditorium of a school in the suburbs. That was the makeshift medical center. The people in the neighborhood donated clothing, futon and other things.
Many people were complaining of being cold but Yuri-chan never said cold and just slept. Once in a while, she opened her eyes and asked whether ofuro (bath) was ready. She probably wanted to take a bath and feel clean. She again opened her eyes and said she did not need to go home. She wanted to stay there. She probably had no energy or willpower to move. My mother asked if she was in pain. She answered that she was not. Perhaps her nerve ends were all dead, so she did not feel anything.
My mother was trying to take my sister's shoes off, but they were not her shoes. The shoes were gone, her feet were all burnt and the skin was hanging loosely. The flesh was covered with sand and dirt and made it look as if she was wearing shoes. How was she able to walk in that condition? My heart ached and I cried when I heard this.
My sister had not eaten or drank anything since the morning, so my mother fed her a piece of canned mikan (mandarin orange). It was just a mouthful but Yuri-chan said it was delicious. That one piece of mikan was the last thing she ate in this world.
My mother helped others, feeding them and comforting them however she could, all night without any sleep.
The next morning around 6:00 a.m., mother told Yuri-chan that she was going to look for other family members. She nodded willingly, but fortunately before my mother left, my sister took her last breath. If it happened after she left, my mother would have felt so sad and regretful.
Mother thought that while my sister was sleeping, she was not feeling pain, so she tried not to disturb her. But if she had known that my sister was going to die so soon, she would have talked to her more. My mother was very regretful.
All the dead bodies, including my sister's, were carried to the school grounds, made into a pile, sprayed with gasoline, and burned. (So many people died, one after another). There was no way my mother could have retrieved the bones, so she kept some hair and nails for a keepsake.
We looked for my younger brother, who was only six. We had no idea if he was able to escape with someone or if he was buried under the house. Even after a few days, what was left of the house was too hot to touch. We checked many emergency shelters, looking for him.
On the day we call the first seventh day, which is the one-week anniversary of a person's death, we were hoping to find my brother, so we went out to search for him. We found his dead body on the roof. The body was burned to pure black. It seemed too big to be my brother but we approached closer. He was laying face down, so we got his body up and then saw a piece of cloth around his stomach. It was a part of his favorite shirt, which he was wearing that day. The size of the piece was only a half of my palm.
At that time we were not even able to conduct a funeral, so we found a piece of galvanized iron nearby and we laid him down on it. We picked up some wooden pieces from the house that were not burnt completely. We piled up those pieces and ignited them. Since his body was already burnt so badly, it did not take very long to cremate.
We did not have a container to keep his bones, so we looked for the ceramic store and found a small but pretty bowl with a lid. We picked that up and put his bones in it.
We went to the fist aid station many times, but the scene was so terrible that I could not watch. I just covered my eyes. There was not enough help and it was humid and hot everyday. The flies were all over the burn patients. They planted eggs in their wounds, which, in a few days, turned into maggots. Soon they were covered with maggots. There was nothing they themselves could do. I believe many of them died because of that.
Everybody asked for water but I learned that drinking water is not good for burn patients. I tried to imagine how painful they must have felt not being able to drink water when they were so thirsty. I can still hear those people's sad painful calls, "please give me some water, please give me some water".
We gave water only to the patients that we felt had no hope of surviving. They said, "Oh it's delicious". Every one of them soon after took their last breath.
The burns were extraordinary. However, there was no medical help, no doctors and no one was treated. Many died, one by one. Later I heard that in some areas the patients were treated.
This is about the experience of one of my female relatives, who was a burn victim. She finally reached her home but she collapsed, could not move any more and was bed ridden. Her mother patiently removed maggots one by one with a tweezers. Perhaps she applied some medicine to her burns. We never thought she would make it but she recovered, regained her health and lived many years after the bombing. She had pretty bad keloids on her face but she was able to marry. Therefore, I think if the patients had received proper care, many would not have had to die. Well, you know it was during the war, so....
A friend from my class received some burns on her face and has some keloids, but she is well. She lost her father in the bombing and she stayed single all her life to support two younger brothers, so they could go to college.
Do you know about the "A Bomb Virgins"? Twenty five young girls who had keloids on their faces were invited by the U.S. government to receive treatments. The keloids were so severe that children were afraid and ran away from them. Although the A Bomb Virgins had keloids on their faces, they were healthy otherwise and some of them were working. However, my heart aches when I think of these young ladies. Their psychological damage and pain must have been terrible.
This is what I heard from a young mother. Her little child was under the house. She was not able to lift up the part of the house, so she asked for help. Everyone was busy caring for themselves. While she was looking for someone to help her, the fire became too intense. Unable to get near her son, she decided to save another young child instead. She asked her son to forgive her. He called her, "stupid mama". She was crying when she told me that she could still hear his voice to this day. I understand how difficult it must have been for her to abandon her own child when the fire was approaching with vengeance. On the other hand the little boy who was left to face the death alone must have been so frightened. There were so many who faced the same situation.
There was a lady who was not home at the time of the bombing. She volunteered to be the correspondent among her neighbors and she built a hut where her house used to be. I am not too certain, but by the end of September or October, she became ill. She had no way to go to the doctor and she passed in the matter of a few days. I think the reason of her death was radiation.
Speaking of radiation, I too received plenty of it. To this day, i have less than half of the white blood cells, compared to normal counts. I never know when I will get sick.
When I went to Japan two years ago, I met a man who was about four years younger than I was. According to his story, he lost both parents and all his siblings. He was the only survivor. He became what we call a war orphan. Fortunately, he was cared for by his uncle who had three girls and no boy, so he was welcomed and treated by the family as their own. At this time, he is quite wealthy and enjoys a family life. He told me how sad and forlorn he was when he became an orphan. He would never forget that empty feeling. He also told me that he never talked abut his experience and how he felt because he thought no one would understand. He decided to tell me, because he felt I could understand because we shared the same experience. The wound he received is so deep and large.
You might understand a little about the conditions of the city after the bomb fell if you recall the terrorist attack in New York City. In that case it was only a small section of New York City but in the case of Hiroshima, it was not a part of the city but the entire city. Perhaps it was 100 or 1,000 fold of the area compared to New York city. Of course there was a difference of war time and peace time.
I wonder if everyone knows of the Hiroshima A Bomb Museum? The items displayed there represent just a very small part of the damage done. The display gives you just a glimpse of what actually happened. I do believe that one million words can not properly explain what a terrible experience it was. I do not think what happened around me at that time will never leave my mind.
There are still many who are suffering from the effect of the bomb. Whenever I think of them, my heart aches for them. I fervently hope that one day we will have no war and be able to live in peace.
Though Japan lost the war, i will never forget the feeling of relief when the war ended. Every day I heard the sound of a hammer. Someone was building a little hut nearby to live in. I experienced that my country was retuning to a peaceful existence. I found the breath of life in that sound.
We heard that there would be no plants and trees in Hiroshima for 75 years. However by the fall, perhaps the roots had survived and we saw cherry blossoms in the nearby park. Normally the cherry blossom blooms in the spring.
I ask everyone here not to give up but work hard for peace on earth.
Sachiko Masuoka was born in Hiroshima. She survived the atomic blast. In 1962, she came to the US through an arranged marriage with a Nisei Japanese American. She moved to Chicago, where he had settled after being released from the Topaz internment camp. Sachiko has two children.
Read Sashiko's story published on the Discover Nikkei website in three parts in English or Japanese: