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Voices from Hiroshima

August 09, 2009

Early on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, pilot Paul Tibbets and his crew took off from the Pacific island of Tinian in a B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay. Hours later, they dropped Little Boy, the first atomic bomb used in warfare, on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, on Aug. 9, the U.S. dropped a second nuclear bomb on Nagasaki. Today, the world is still struggling with how to control the weapons unleashed 64 years ago. Nine countries are known or are widely believed to have nuclear weapons capability, with Iran working to develop it. On this anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, we are publishing firsthand testimony from the nuclear era's first victims. The following oral histories, gathered in 1995 as part of a project for the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation and translated by Mitsuru Ohba of Hiroshima City University, have been condensed and edited for clarity. Other witness reports of the bombing can be found at http://www.inicom.com/hibakusha/index.html.

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Akihiro Takahashi

A junior high school student of 14, Akihiro Takahashi was lined up waiting for the morning meeting to begin at his school, less than a mile away from where the bomb fell.

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We saw a B-29 approaching. All of us were looking up at the sky. Then the teachers came out from the school building, and the class leaders gave the command to fall in. That was the moment when the blast came. I was blown about 10 meters. My friends were all knocked down on the ground. Everything collapsed for as far as I could see. I felt the city of Hiroshima had disappeared all of a sudden. Then I looked at myself and found my clothes had turned into rags because of the heat. I was burned at the back of the head, on my back, on both arms and both legs. My skin was peeling and hanging.

Automatically I began to walk, heading west because that was the direction of my home. After a while, I noticed someone calling my name. I looked around and found a friend who lived in my town and was studying at the same school. His name was Yamamoto. He was badly burned too. We walked toward the river, and on the way we saw many victims. I saw a man whose skin was completely peeled off the upper half of his body and a woman whose eyeballs were sticking out. A mother and her baby were lying with skin completely peeled off.

We reached the riverbank at the same moment a fire broke out. We made a narrow escape from the fire. If we had been slower by even one second, we would have been killed by the fire. There was a small wooden bridge left, which had not been destroyed by the blast. I went over to the other side of the river using that bridge. But Yamamoto was not with me anymore. He was lost somewhere.

On the other side, I plunged myself into the water three times. The heat was tremendous. And I felt like my body was burning all over. For my burning body, the cold water of the river was as precious as treasure.

On the way to my house, I ran into an another friend, Tokujiro Hatta. The soles of his feet were badly burned, peeling, with red muscle exposed. Even though I myself was terribly burned, I could not ignore him. I made him crawl using his arms and knees. Next, I made him stand on his heels and I supported him. We walked heading toward my home repeating the two methods. While we were resting because we were so exhausted, I saw my great uncle and great aunt coming toward us. We have a proverb about meeting Buddha in hell. My encounter with my relatives at that time was just like that. They seemed to be the Buddha to me, as I wandered in the living hell.

I was under medical treatment for a year and half before I miraculously recovered. Out of 60 junior high school classmates, only 10 of us are alive today. Yamamoto and Hatta died soon after the blast from acute radiation disease.

I still have to see an ear doctor, an eye doctor, a dermatologist and a surgeon. I feel uneasy about my health every day. On both of my hands, I have keloid scarring. My injury was most serious on my right hand. In 1954, I had surgery that enabled me to move my wrist a little bit. My four fingers are fixed in one position, and my elbow is fixed at 120 degrees and doesn't move.

I'm alive today, though from time to time I question if it is worth living in such hardship and pain. But I tell myself that I must fulfill my mission as a survivor. It is my belief that those who survived must continue to talk about our experiences, to represent the silent voices of those who died in misery.

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Toshiko Saeki

Twenty-six years old at the time of the bombing, Toshiko Saeki was at her parents' home near Hiroshima with her children.

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I remember an airplane appeared from behind the mountains on my left. I thought it was strange to see an airplane flying all by itself. I watched it for a while, then it disappeared. I was wondering what would happen. Then suddenly there came a flash of light. Then I felt some hot mask attacking me. I felt hot.

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