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The Man Who Survived Twice
Everybody from scientists, doctors, and radiologists to social workers has written countless times about the impact of the atomic blasts but the best descriptions were undoubtedly given by the US president Harry Truman as he gave a press conference, 16 hours after the blasts revealing the US bombings.
“It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe, the force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East. It is a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”
And the man who survived this ‘rain of run’ not once but twice was Tsutomu Yamaguchi who described his horrifying experience of death dancing around him like this:
“They are piled atop one another high. And the ground will never dry.
It is soaked with the fat of all the people who burned and died.”
Tsutomu Yamaguchi had just witnessed the world’s first atomic blast at Hiroshima and incredibly, it would not be his last. Yes, he was in Hiroshima on August 6 1945 and three days later happened to be in Nagasaki. And he had the unique distinction of not only enduring the horror of both the blasts but also surviving later to tell his tale twice!
The Story of Tsutomu Yamaguchi
It was yet another busy day on 6th August in Hiroshima when Tsutomu Yamaguchi saw an American plane fly over Hiroshima and drop a small object that drifted lazily onto the unsuspecting city.
The 29-year-old naval engineer was on a three-month-long business trip for his employer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and on August 6, 1945, was supposed to be returning home to his wife, Hisako, and their infant son, Katsutoshi based at Nagasaki.
The Americans called the small object dropped from the plane ‘little boy’ but to the Japanese, it was a messenger of doom and destruction as it wreaked havoc over the hapless city. Tsutomu Yamaguchi was less than 2 miles away from the blast site as he described his experience later to a British newspaper.
“I think I fainted for a while. When I opened my eyes, everything was dark, and I could not see much. It was like the start of a film at the cinema before the picture has begun when the blank frames are just flashing up without any sound.”
Suffering from ruptured eardrums, and hands and legs badly burned, he walked around in a daze and finally managed to get some sleep in a nearby air shelter. The next morning, he headed to the west of the city to the railway station.
Throughout his journey, he saw terrible scenes of torment, bloated corpses of men, women, and children stuck together, and badly burned and mutilated faces of people in various states of survival. The disturbing images would forever remain with Yamaguchi until his death. Wading through the dead bodies, he finally reached the station where miraculously the trains were still running.
Yamaguchi returned to his hometown of Nagasaki on August 8. He went to the hospital to get his burns treated and within 24 hours was back at work, explaining to his company’s director at Mitsubishi’s Nagasaki office, the state of affairs at Hiroshima.
His superior just could not believe him. How can a single blast destroy a whole city? Yamaguchi tried convincing but in vain.
It was precisely at that moment the ‘Fat Boy’ attacked Nagasaki. Yamaguchi's bandages were blown off as he dropped to the ground just seconds before the shock wave shattered the office windows and sent broken glass and debris careening through the room.
For the second time in 3 days, Yamaguchi had the misfortune to be within 2 miles of a nuclear explosion. And for the second time also, he survived. As he later said.
“I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima.”
After the Bombings
In the days that followed, Yamaguchi’s double dose of radiation began to show its deadly effects.
His hair fell out, his wounds became septic and he began vomiting incessantly after every intake of food. Nevertheless, his strong constitution helped him as he slowly recovered and soon started leading a normal life. He served as a translator for the U.S. armed forces during their occupation of Japan and later taught school before resuming his engineering career at Mitsubishi.
In all, around 165 people may have experienced both attacks but Yamaguchi was the only person officially recognized by the Japanese government as a ‘nijyuu hibakusha,’ or ‘twice-bombed person.’ Yamaguchi did not talk about his experiences until the 2000s when he released a memoir and became a vocal supporter of the nuclear disarmament movement. He died in 2010 at the ripe old age of 93.
On being asked later, for the reason for supporting nuclear disarmament, he had simply said.
“Having experienced atomic bombings twice and survived, it is my destiny to talk about it.”
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Ravi Rajan