dateline japan


Atom bomb dome in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, maintained as a reminder of the power of atomic weapons

Hiroshima wasn’t prepared for atomic bomb

Published Sunday, Aug. 26, 1979, in the Corsicana (Texas) Daily Sun.

By JOHN SPRAGENS Jr.
Sun Staff Writer

HIROSHIMA, Japan — By August of 1945 Hiroshima was bracing for a visit from “B-san.” “Mr. B” — the American B29 — flew virtually unchallenged through the Japanese skies in the closing days of World War II, and Hiroshima was one of the few major cities not yet bombed.

The river which forked into seven branches as it flowed southward to the sea cut natural fire lanes in one direction. Citizens, including school children mobilized for the task, were busy “evacuating houses” to clear east-west fire lanes.

Hiroshima’s civil defense planners were as ready as they could be for firebombing raids like those that had already devastated the capital, Tokyo, and other cities.

They were not ready for Aug.6, 1945.

“The morning of Aug. 6 the air raid warnings were called off and I started to clean the toilet,” recalls Harue Yamazaki, then 36 and married to a merchant.

“I looked outside and saw my son, our second child, accepting a paper crane his 8-year-old sister had folded for him. That was the last time I ever saw my boy.

“The next thing I remember I was under a beam of our two-story house. Everthing was so quiet. For a while there was no sound.”

Mrs. Yamazaki’s sister, too, was pinned under the wreckage. After working herself free, Mrs. Yamazaki was able to pull her sister out up to her right elbow, but no further.

She blinks once, twice in a vain attempt to halt the tears which still come, 34 years later.

“I heard my daughter crying, ‘It’s hot. It’s hot. Mommie, please help me.’

“I knew I had to help my sister and child, but my sister said to me, ‘Elder sister, you are probably the only one left in this family. Why don’t you escape? You can pray for us when we die.’”

As she fled for her life, leaving her sister and daughter trapped and helpless in the face of the fire storm which began to sweep Hiroshima, Mrs. Yamazaki did not know it was a single atomic bomb which had flashed above her city at 8:15 a.m.

She had no way of comprehending what had reduced the whole city to rubble in an instant. Concerned for her family, she had not even noticed the now-familiar mushroom cloud which rose to a height of five miles in a matter of minutes after the blast.

As she made her way through the devastated streets, she met a farmer wearing a towel on his head. He tore it in two and bandaged her foot so she could walk on.

After an unsuccessful search for her father, she went to the home of some family friends to ask about him. “We don’t know anyone who looks like you,” they told her. Only then did Mrs. Yamazaki realize there were fragments of glass embedded in her face, which was by then covered with blood.

When she explained who she was, the Imamura family took her in, gave her a bath and fed her some rice.

Throughout the ruins of Hiroshima, there were thousands of variations on that theme.

Ryoichi Teraushi, 38 at the time, was working in a munitions plant. He rushed home and moved his first grade child to a sister’s house in the countryside.

The following day as he searched for his wife, Teraushi found “piles and piles of corpses, mostly school children. Most had no hair. It was hard to distinguish one from another.”

After about a week, he abandoned the search. Instead of her body he buried his wife’s photograph and a lock of her hair.

“I just can’t express the feeling of not being able to find her,” he says quietly.

Fujiko Yamada was 32 at the time. The images burned into her mind are those of people seared by the intense heat of the bomb, their flesh hanging like tattered rags from their arms and legs, calling out for water.

“I saw five or six high school girls sleeping peacefully,” she recalls. “I tried to wake them up. They were not burned, but they had died right there.”

The Red Cross Hospital, the largest in town, was overwhelmed. Only six doctors were able to work, and they could do little but give first aid for burns to the thousands who came looking for help.

There was nothing they could do for those who began to die a few days later from the effects of radiation.

No one will ever know the number who died in Hiroshima. The number of soldiers stationed at the regional headquarters a half mile north of the point the bomb exploded was a military secret. The official estimate now is that 140,000 died, either immediately or by the end of the year.

The next day the heavily censored Japanese press reported: “Fairly great damage was caused in Hiroshima City when it was attacked by a small number of enemy B-29s on Aug. 6. Although the enemy is believed to have utilized new-type bombs, details are now under investigation.”


Photo copyright © 1979 John Spragens, Jr.
Text copyright © 1979 Corsicana Daily Sun
Reporting for this series was supported by a grant from the Hiroshima International Cultural Foundation.


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