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Monday, May 3, 2010

Voices of the A-Bomb Victims

Br. John Blazo, our resident techie and official greeter, was able to get the overheard projector working just in time for tonight's presentation by three survivors of the atomic blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A ten-minute video showed a reenactment (I hope) of the bombing of Hiroshima with filmed testimony by other survivors. They described the light, shockwave and heat of the explosion. Anyone out in the open was vaporized or carbonized. Next came the sound wave that demolished glass and concrete. A rolling black cloud spread over the mountains and surrounding land.

Tens of thousands of people near the fireball vanished in a second. Those who survived were either trapped under rubble and/or badly burned. Survivors described seeing the closest thing to hell on earth. The morning sun vanished behind a hideous cloud. The film ended.

Personal testimony: A woman who was 15 years-old at the time then described to us about her going to work that fateful day at the Mitsubishi factory that had made the turbines used in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"August 9, 1945 was a very humid day. Suddenly I saw a red, yellow, white and blue light coming towards us. I must have passed out but when I woke I was covered in ash and rubble. On the way to get help I saw a human-like creature stand up, its skin hanging from its bones. Afterwards a soldier on horseback announced a new weapon had been used. That's when I first learned about the atomic bomb.

"...It was a miracle I survived that day.

"Young men who had gone to the epicenter on the 11th to bury the dead returned with bleeding gums, their hair falling out. One by one they all died."

A second women then gave her witness. She was two miles from the epicenter. She was weak as a child and had many difficulties. As it was widely known that the bomb survivors ran a risk of bearing deformed children and decided not to marry. Amazingly a man approached her and offered to help "carry the burden together."

"I suffer from anemia and nosebleeds and assumed I would never have a child," she said. "What joy I felt when I became pregnant, but then miscarried." She later bore three sons, two of them healthy. The doctor told her the radiation would have only effected the firstborn. She realized that was the baby who had miscarried.

The third person to speak addressed a few words to us in English. Quoting President Obama's vision of a world without nuclear weapons, he and all survivors felt encouragement. He was one kilometer from the epicenter and 14-years-old when the bomb dropped. He was trapped in his collapsed housed with his mother and three younger siblings.

"I will never forget that scene after climbing out. All the houses were flattened and smoke was everywhere. Fire was in the distance. I thought the entire city had been destroyed. I didn't see any mushroom cloud because we were under it."

He tried to rescue his family but his sister was badly wounded and the fire was coming closer.

Many buildings around the city hall had been quickly demolished to try to contain the spreading fire, fanned by a strong wind. They dove into the water repeatedly to cool off from the intense heat, not realizing this water might be contaminated or radiated. They drank the water but it made them vomit.

Clumps of his hair started falling out, as did his family's hair. He regrets not keeping that damaged hair as a reminder. His mother died in less than a month and his father prepared funerals for them all. At the time there was no treatment or remedy for radiation poisoning. He needed blood transfusions every other day. His younger sister died six months later. Despite various diseases he and his brother survived. In 1984 his brother, now a doctor, died of liver cancer.

In spite of this he still considers himself lucky because he was together with his family members after the blast, unlike most who never saw their families again.

A question and answer period followed. Of the approximately 60 people in attendance tonight, five were Maryknollers.

This gathering at Maryknoll tonight coincides with the opening of the world nuclear arms conference taking place at the United Nations.


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