Hiroshima survivors remember

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Hiroshima survivors remember
Hiroshima survivors’ tale a painfully seared memory

More than 140,000 people were killed on Aug. 6, 1945, when at 8:15 a.m. the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima.

Among the 200,000 atomic bomb survivors, or “Hibakusha,” are Keiko Ogura, who was 8; and Sunao Tsuboi, a Hiroshima University engineering student at the time.

Their mission today is to remind the world of the death and destruction caused by the first use of a nuclear weapon.

“It is clear that if a nuclear war happened now, humans would be destroyed by a nuclear explosion equivalent to several thousand times the power of that used in Hiroshima,” Tsuboi told the Star-Bulletin in an interview. “There will be no winner.”



By Gregg K. Kakesako / gkakesako@starbulletin.com

HIROSHIMA » Keiko Ogura was only 8 years old when her father kept her home from school on Aug. 6, 1945, because “he felt something was wrong.”

That same day, Sunao Tsuboi, at the time a 20-year-old engineering student at Hiroshima University, was studying when at 8:15 a.m. the city of Hiroshima became the victim of the world’s first atomic bombing.

Tsuboi, 82, and Ogura, 70, are atomic bomb survivors, or “Hibakusha,” who lived through “a living hell on Earth” when the city of Hiroshima’s 350,000 inhabitants died.

Their mission today is to remind the world of the death and destruction caused by the first use of a nuclear weapon.

Tsuboi has been featured as one of 14 Japanese survivors and four Americans interviewed in the documentary “White Light/Black Rain,” which will premiere tomorrow on HBO. In the film by Steve Okazaki, Tsuboi says he was ready to go to war, to die for his country, “to fall like petals from a flower, that was our destiny.”

Keiko Ogura views a model of Hiroshima and Mount Futabayama, which shielded her family from the atomic bomb blast 62 years ago. Students regularly visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which contains a model of the city after the bombing and other exhibits showing the damage caused by radiation, heat rays and the blast. CLICK FOR LARGE

Through an interpreter, Tsuboi told the Star-Bulletin recently, “The greatest fear a victim of an atomic bomb is that the destruction of their ‘humanity’ will continue throughout the world even if they survived.

“Atomic bombs are absolute evil and are not morally tolerable,” added Tsuboi, who has traveled the world advocating the abolition of nuclear weapons. “It is clear that if a nuclear war happened now, humans would be destroyed by a nuclear explosion equivalent to several thousand times the power of that used in Hiroshima. There will be no winner.”

Tsuboi, co-chairman of the Japan Confederation of A-and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, said he was a half-mile from the hypocenter of the atomic explosion.

The scars on his face and body are as vivid as his memory of that day in August.

It was already hot, Tsuboi recalled.

But the sky was clear. It was almost cloudless. Just before 8 o’clock an air raid siren had been sounded, but virtually ignored.

Tsuboi was walking on Miyuki Bridge on his way to the university.

In one of the rare photographs taken minutes after the blast, Tsuboi and other survivors can be seen looking back at the city. He said he scratched “Tsuboi died here” on a wall to tell his friends where his badly burnt body could be found.

He said the crew of the U.S. B-29 bomber Enola Gay had used the T-shaped Aioi Bridge in the center of the city as its aiming point. The bomb exploded nearly a half-mile over Shima Hospital — 990 feet southeast of the bridge, crushing all buildings within a 1 1/2-mile radius. The Aioi Bridge now marks the north entrance to Peace Memorial Park. The perpendicular lines that make the T are made up of a bridge that spans the east and west banks of the Honkawa River and another that stretches south from its midsection to Nakajima-cho in Peace Memorial Park.

The blast scooped up Tsuboi and tossed him 30 feet.

He saw a huge flash of light, but no mushroom cloud.

“I lost consciousness for 10 to 15 minutes,” Tsuboi added. “When I awoke there was darkness surrounding me. Everything was a dim gray, charcoal color.

“My shirt had caught on fire. Because of the heat. Both of my sleeves were burnt. I was almost naked … I had burns all over my body.”

Ogura said days leading up to Aug. 6 had been marked by increased air raids, all using Aioi Bridge as a target.

One of her older brothers had been sent to a temple. Another older brother, who was 12 or 13 years old, had been part of a group of intermediate schoolchildren tasked to work in a sweet potato field near the train station.

The Hiroshima Prefectural Industry Promotional Hall was one of the few buildings that were not leveled when the atomic bomb was dropped there in 1945. CLICK FOR LARGE

More than 6,000 junior high students were sent to the fields that day to build firebreaks and were caught in the open when the bomb was dropped. Their bodies were never found. Some were identified only by their belongings found at the worksites.

Ogura’s home, 1 1/2 miles from the hypocenter, was shielded from the blast by a low gentle ridge known as Futabayama.

She remembers a “bluish white flash followed by a torrent of dust and rubbish. I couldn’t breathe or see.”

Her hair was burnt. Much of her skin was burnt.

Only two of the students at Honkawa Elementary School — where she would have been in class if it wasn’t for her father’s premonition — survived the atomic blast.

Ogura said her brother, who had been mobilized to work on a firebreak near the center of the city, instead decided to report to Hiroshima train station which lies in the shadow of Futabayama.

He recalled later that the sound of the B-29 bomber made him look up.

Tracing his way back home, Ogura said her brother had to climb Futabayama mountain and “saw the city burning.”

Ogura too would climb the gentle slopes of the mountain. “Everyday I climbed that hill. Everyday I would see the city burning. By the end of the third day the city was completely burnt. The Inland Sea seemed so near.”

Tsuboi said he wandered the streets of Hiroshima for about a week.

He ended up on Ninoshima Island — a small island off the coast of Hiroshima city where at an old quarantine station a field hospital had been established to treat the more than 10,000 injured.

There among bodies, his mother miraculously found him.

“She had a strong love for her son,” Tsuboi said with a heavy sigh. “She, in a loud voice, shouted my name. ‘Sunao.’ It was miraculous. I heard her calling my name.

“My mother later said I was lying beneath all those bodies. I had raised my hand, saying: ‘I am here.’ There must been some kind of relationship between mother and son. Thanks to such luck I am alive.”

Unconscious for the next 40 days, Tsuboi said his doctors told his mother every day that he would die.

It wasn’t until January when he could move.

He didn’t walk until a year later.

Since then, Tsuboi has been hospitalized 10 times, escaping death on three occasions.

Tsuboi estimates that the effects of radiation on the residents of Hiroshima and those who entered the city to offer aid were devastating. He believes there were as many as 200,000 people in Japan who can be considered survivors of the Hiroshima A-bomb.

It has been estimated that 140,000 people died almost immediately from the single 9,700-pound bomb dropped by the Enola Gay on Aug. 6, 1945. An additional 74,000 were killed by a second A-bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later.

Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945.

Memorial for bombing scheduled
Star-Bulletin staff

The Hiroshima Commemoration and Peace Ceremony tomorrow will mark the 62nd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at the Izumo Taishakyo Mission at 215 N. Kukui St., the ceremony will be attended by Hiroshima-Nishi Little League Baseball players and also feature the Honolulu Theater for Youth’s “The Sadako Project,” about a little girl who dies from radiation poisoning after the bombing.

Children from the Nuuanu YMCA will place 1,001 paper cranes that they made on the Peace Bell. The ceremony will conclude with the ringing of the Peace Bell by Bishop Thomas Okano of the Honpa Hongwanji Temples of Hawaii.

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