dateline japan

Sumiteru Taniguchi with his wife Eiko and son Hideo

‘People were not
like humans’

Published Monday, Aug. 27, 1979, in the Corsicana (Texas) Daily Sun.

Sun Staff Writer

NAGASAKI, Japan — Word of mouth was the best source of news in wartime Nagasaki. Two days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the Nagasaki edition of the Asahi newspaper had carried a small article which played down the damage caused by the Aug. 6, 1945, strike there.

That same day, Aug. 8, the president of Nagasaki Medical College returned home. He had passed through Hiroshima on his way, and told his medical colleagues that the immense destruction he had seen had been caused by a single airplane.

Even though stories of what happened at Hiroshima were beginning to circulate through the city, people did not believe the leaflets dropped Aug. 8 warning that Nagasaki would be turned to dust. Loyal citizens that they were, they turned the leaflets in to the police, who told them not to believe enemy propaganda.

The very next morning a single airplane appeared through a hole in the clouds covering Nagasaki. Sighting on the massive Mitsubishi Steel Works, the bombardier pushed the release button.

At 11:02 a.m. Aug. 9, 1945, Sumiteru Taniguchi was pedaling his bicyle down the street. Though he was only 16, he was already working for the post office as a letter carrier. More than a mile away, the second atomic bomb in the history of warfare flashed white hot, with temperatures of several million degrees.

Taniguchi was thrown from his bicycle by the force of the blast.

“When I looked up, some small children who had been playing nearby had been blown away like dust,” he recalls. A stone a foot in diameter was hurtling through the air in his direction, but missed him.

As he picked himself up, Taniguchi noticed his bicycle lying on the ground, bent completely out of shape. He tried to feel his back, and discovered there was no clothing and even his skin was peeling away.

Gathering up his scattered letters, the young postman set out for a nearby shelter in a mountain tunnel, where he sat down, dazed, on a table brought there from a factory in the city.

The tunnel was not safe, either. It was filled with ammunition, and those inside had to leave for fear it would begin to explode.

“I tried to stand, but I could not stand any more. I could not walk,” Taniguchi says. “I was taken to the first aid station at Shinko Elementary School by cart.”

It was the beginning of 21 months in bed, lying on his stomach, waiting for his totally burned back to heal. Once the shock wore off, the pain began.

“I was in such pain that I asked someone to kill me,” he says. “Sometimes I could not breathe or swallow food. Two, three times or more my breath stopped, but I recovered somehow.”

Looking back, Taniguchi cannot remember what gave him the will to live on. Perhaps it was the vitality of his youth.

After a year and nine months in bed, Taniguchi was able to leave the hospital. “People cheered when I was able to stand for the first time,” he says.

His medical problems were not over, though. Like others exposed to the radiation from the bomb, Taniguchi found that even small wounds did not heal for a long time. Years later a cancer developed in the massive scar covering his back, and doctors are watching two other suspicious spots.

Chiehiro Kido was just 10 the day of the bomb. He was swimming in the river with some friends when he saw the B29 appear more than two miles away.

“No words can describe the intensity of the flash when the bomb went off,” he says. “I fell flat on the ground and tried to cover myself with my hands. There was the great noise of the explosion. It seemed to be directly above my head even though it was four kilometers away. The next moment I was in complete darkness.” The mushroom cloud had blotted out the sun.

As he ran back toward his home, he encountered the throngs fleeing the city. “People were bleeding; their clothes were in rags. They were not like humans,” he says.

About dusk his father finally returned home.

“He had been burned on the front part of his body,” Kido says. “Only his nostrils, eyes and mouth were intact. He was covered with white burn ointment. We sat down to supper.

“Soon his burned flesh started to rot. The stench was unbearable. I was with him for three months. I lost my appetite because of the smell — the smell of a dead man from the still-living body of my father.

Five years later, Kido’s father died. He joined the 70,000 believed to have died by the end of 1945 from the effects of the bomb and the many thousands who died later.

The particular horrors of each individual’s experience were multiplied by the scale of the destruction.

Those who survived often could do little but try to preserve their own lives. Their inability to help relatives and friends left psychological wounds which still fester.

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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