On August 6, 1945, I was exposed to the atomic bomb at just one kilometer away from ground zero in Hiroshima.
Hiroshima August 6, 1945
Recovering consciousness, I found myself confined in a dark, narrow gap in the ruins of our timber house, which had collapsed. Fortunately, I was able to get out. I have never forgotten the scene I saw upon climbing out. All the houses as far as I could see were flattened to the ground.The sky was dim with smoke as if it were after sunset. Fire was breaking out two to three hundred meters ahead of me; all the houses had been built of wood. I thought that the city had been destroyed at once by a terribly large bomb.
Exposed to the blast and trapped under the ruins of our house were my 12 year-old brother, Hideo, and my mother who had been hanging washing out in the yard with my little sister, Masako, who was 5 years old. I was 14 at the time. My father had left Hiroshima on business early that morning. With much difficulty, I finally succeeded in rescuing my family from under the collapsed building. We fled from the house, driven away by the approaching fire. Blasts of intolerably hot wind blew continuously.
We jumped into a reservoir of stagnant water, which had been set up for the purpose of extinguishing fires during air raids, in order to cool our bodies. As soon as we came out from the water, out clothes were dried instantly by the intense heat caused by the fires. We had to jump into the water so often that dirty water entered our mouths and caused us to vomit. Surrounding fires forced us to stay in the air raid evacuation zone for several hours.
In Hiroshima many junior high school children who had been mobilised to demolish houses to create fire barriers, were killed by the atomic bomb. Shortly before the bomb fell, the 'all clear' siren had been sounded and people had come out of the shelters. The aircraft carrying the bomb had flown over the city and then gone away, leading those responsible for the air-raid sirens to think it had retreated. Only after the 'all clear' had sounded did it return. We have wondered whether this was deliberate US policy to get people out from shelters so that the effects of the atomic bomb could be tested: something the US military authorities, when asked, have neither confirmed or denied.
Toward evening, the fires and the wind nearly ceased. A rescue truck came by and picked us up. Several people were sitting in the truck. Some were almost naked and badly burned. The skin on their arms was peeling off and hanging down from their hands. More refugess were jammed onto the truck so tightly that they cried in pain when their peeling skin touched the skin of others.
The refugees were taken into army barracks on Kanawa Island in Hiroshima Bay.
Drawing by Yoshio Sato of the people sitting in the truck,
their arms naked and burned, peeled skin hanging down from their fingertips.
A few days after the bombing, my father returned to Hiroshima and searched for his missing family. Lumps of molten glass bottles found in the ruins of our house almost made him believe that all his family had died. But he managed to find out where we had been taken and he suddenly appeared in front of us.
Almost no medicine was available for treating burns and wounds. A boy lying next to us had been burnt and was blistering badly on his face. There were maggots all over from his cheeks to his ears. He had nearly lost his sight. However, he received no treatment at all. A young mother, who was completely naked, was lying down, holding her already dead baby in her arms. She madly took off any clothing anybody tried to put on her. She seemed to have been driven crazy by the shock of the bombing and the death of her baby.
The war was over on August 15.
When I awoke one morning I found my hair falling out, and lots of hair stuck to my pillow. Clumps of hair would fall out every time I touched my head. It was beyond my understanding that this was caused by the radio-activity of the bomb. The four of us in my family, who had experienced the atom bomb lost our hair and nearly went bald.
At the end of August we were sent with high fever to the Red Cross Hospital in a small town about 100 km away from Hiroshima. My mother died on the morning of September 2, less than a month after the atomic bombing. My father told me later that he had been prepared for our funerals to come one after another.
A self-portrait of Yoshio Sato after loosing his hair,
and the hair on his pillow.
By late autumn, the three of us seemed to be getting better. Our hair began to grow little by little though it was considerably thin. The hair looked thinner at the roots and thicker at the top, or top-heavy. It is to my great regret that I did not keep the hairs as evidence of 'Hiroshima'. In March 1946, sister Masako suddenly died, six months after the bombing.
In 1971, I had half my stomach removed because of cancer. My brother, who had become a medical doctor, died of liver cancer in 1984, despite having had surgery twice. Now, I am the only survivor in my family. The death rate from cancer is clearly higher among those who were exposed to the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki than that of those who were not exposed.
Since my retirement as a chemist, I have devoted my life to speaking about the effects of the atomic bomb, going into schools and speaking abroad when I get the chance. I spoke in Vancouver, Canada, in 2001 right after the September 11 attack. After listening to my speech, a young student asked me, "Has the US apologised to you?" My answer was, "No". In May 2005 in New York, where I was taking part in a big peace parade to appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons, a lady came up to me and gave me a big kiss after she heard my story. She said, "I want to apologise to you."
Even now, there are about 30,000 nuclear bombs in the world. Nuclear weapons, if used, would produce enormous blasts, intense heat and release deadly radiation. The bomb radiation would not only cause victims cancer and other diseases, but would affect the health of their children.
As a survivor of the atomic bombing, I believe it is my mission to inform the people of the world, especially the yound people, of the horror of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons must never be used again and we must in no way allow the existence of nuclear weapons. I truly believe that the people of the world, by knowing and understanding each other, will be able to work together to abolish nuclear weapons and build a peaceful world.
No more war, no more nuclear weapons. Thank you for listening.
The drawings are published in WASURERARENAL ANOHIO - THE DAY NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN, A collection of testimonies and pictures by sufferers of the A-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagaski, published by the Kanagawa Atom Bomb Sufferers Association.
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