Under the Mushroom-Shaped Cloud
a memoir by
Shuntaro Hida M.D.
© Copyright 2006 by Shuntaro Hida. All rights reserved.
About the Author
The Flash Penetrated Me
Under the Kinoko Gumo
The Field Hospital in Hesaka
The Fearful Night
In the Lost City
Opening of a Tragedy
Epilogue: Radiation Poisoning
When I proceeded to my new post as a medical officer in the Hiroshima Military Hospital in 1944, just a year before the atomic bombing, the general outlook relative to the war was already in favor of the Japanese Army authority. In early 1945, especially, many Japanese had begun to feel uneasy about the future of this war, in spite of the government reports of victories every day. These reports were complete fabrications. At that time, many big cities in Japan had been attacked with heavy air raids by the American Air Force, and these cities suffered complete destruction from fire.
However, strange to say, Hiroshima had never been bombed, despite the fact that the B-29 bombers flew over the city every day. Though I came to know afterwards from the United States archives that Hiroshima had been kept for the last bombing by nuclear weapons, we had to carry patients into the shelter at every air raid alarm, because we didn’t know which alarm might signify a real bombing. However, it seemed that the atmosphere of the city was free and easy both among the troops and the citizens, because they had experienced an actual air raid. For instance, the chief of staff of the D.H.Q. never heeded the advice to move the military hospital to the countryside for safety.
Most of the patients had been wounded or taken ill in the battlefield. They were living witnesses to each battle and could give direct evidence which of our corps had been totally destroyed, or how many warships sunk or planes struck down. It had become a matter of common sense in the hospital that we had no chance to win, though the government hid this information.
But soon after, the Japanese Army was totally defeated in the Philippines and the Okinawa islands, and no recourse remained for Japan except to struggle in our own mainland. The army in Hiroshima began to make all their non-combatant troops evacuate to the nearby countryside. Because the various detachments tried to move at the same time, it was very difficult to find a suitable place for the large number of medical workers and patients in the military hospital. As a result, we were obliged to divide the patients and hospital personnel into several groups and make some move to schoolhouses and some to a Buddhist temple or shrine in nearby scattered areas.
Unexpectedly, I was ordered by the D.H.Q. to make an underground shelter for the central hospital by digging a tunnel through the mountainside in the Hesaka village about 1.5 miles north from the Hiroshima city.
In the early part of May, I left Hiroshima and proceeded to my new post as commander of “halldigging troops” with about three hundred soldiers.
By chance, it was in the daytime on the fifth of August when I finished the shelter-making works according to the program, despite the lack of necessary materials.
It was just before that day, August sixth, when the first atomic bomb, “Little Boy”, was dropped upon a human being in Hiroshima. Regrettably, it was dropped too hastily. After the success of the first atomic bomb explosion, code-named “Trinity”, in Alamogordo, New Mexico, no animal experiments related to the danger of radioactivity for human beings (which had been predicted by many scientists) had been done. If the administrations and military authorities had paid regard to the terrible nature of the demon fire which mankind had discovered for the first time — but without knowing its implication, it would never have been thrown down upon the 750,000 Japanese victims.
To return to the point, then, I called the D.H.Q. and reported completion of my duty, expecting a sympathetic order to stay there one more night and recover ourselves fully. But to my sorrow, I was bitterly disappointed. “Come back at once with all your soldiers”. It was an order, and I couldn't willfully disregard it. I forced my company to prepare at once. After expressing our thanks to the leading persons of the village, we started to Hiroshima leaving a small number of personnel to complete the remaining business and prepare to open the new underground hospital. Since then I have been tortured with stifling regret, and this question will remain in my mind forever: Why didn’t I stay there that night, finding some excuse for D.H.Q.? If I had done that, the lives of three hundred soldiers would not have been lost.
We came back to Hiroshima about 8:00 p.m., when the long summer day was drawing to a close. Unluckily, both the director and the chief of general affairs of the hospital were away on official business in Osaka, so I couldn’t report and receive a new order. While I killed time wandering about the hospital area, I was requested an unusual service from the duty officer to wait upon the senior medical officers who came to stay in the hospital that night. In those days it had been a bad practice among those who came and went between the front and Tokyo on official business to use the military hospital in place of a hotel where no meals were served.
I arranged the dinners in the x-ray room. As all the windows were covered with black curtains, I did not switch off the light with each air raid alarm. Because it was unpleasant duty, I eventually got drunk with sake. After seeing with my own eyes that the last one was dead drunk, I laid down on the bed which had been arranged for all of us in that room. If I had slept there through the night, I would have been killed the next morning.
In the middle of the night, I was shaken awake by an old farmer guided to me by a guard. His granddaughter had had a fit of heart disease, which I had treated at one time while I stayed in the Hesaka village. It was an urgent call. I had to go at once, but for being drunk, it was difficult for me to move. He loaded me on the back of his bicycle, binding me to his waist. My memory of the trip is vague. I remembered only that I surely saw the beautiful stream of the River Ohta reflecting twinkling stardust while I held on to his belt to prevent falling from the rolling bicycle.
The Flash Penetrated Me
I awakened with light dazzling upon my face. That day, the sixth of August, had broken. It was ten past eight and too late for the opening time of the hospital. I jumped out of bed. The master who slept beside me began his daily work, and the clattering sound of a well bucket drawing water reached my ears from the back yard.
Drawing near the patient, I observed her. Her attack had abated, and deep sleep had fallen upon her. Going to give her an injection to insure her well-being, I took a syringe from my bag and began to cut the neck of an ampule.
The blue sky of August was shining without a cloud. In the sky, at extraordinary height, a B-29 bomber came into view, shining silvery and moving slowly as if it had stopped there. It was about to approach the city of Hiroshima. “It must be the usual scouting”, I thought. I pushed out air from the syringe without paying any more attention to the plane. I was about to put the needle into her arm.
At that moment, a dazzling flash struck my face and penetrated my eye. Violent heat blew against my face and both arms. I remember uttering “Ah!”, but don’t remember whether or not I gave the injection. In an instant, I crept on the mat, covering my face with both my hands by instinct, and tried to flee outside by creeping. “Fire!”, I expected, but saw only the blue sky between my fingers. The tips of the leaves on the porch did not move one inch. It was entirely quiet. “Might it be a dream?” I looked again over the city of Hiroshima with my whole heart.
Just then I saw a great fire ring floating in the sky of Hiroshima, as if a giant ring lay over the city. In a moment, a mass of deep white cloud grew out in the center of the ring. It grew quickly, extending itself more and more in the center of the red ring. At the same time, a long black cloud appeared spreading over the entire width of the city, spread along the side of the hill and began to surge over the valley of Ohta toward the Hesaka village, enveloping all woods, groves, rice fields, farms and houses. It was an enormous blast storm rolling up the mud and sand of the city. The delay of only several seconds after the monumental flash and heat-rays permitted me to observe the whole aspect of the black tidal wave.
I saw the roof of the primary school below the farmer’s house stripped easily by the cloud of dust. My whole body suddenly flew up in the air before I could guard myself. The shutters and screens flew up around me as if they were scrap paper. The heavy straw-thatched roof of the farmer’s house was blown through and was lifted up with the ceiling, and the next moment the blue sky was seen through the newly formed hole. I flew ten meters through two rooms, shutting my eyes and bending my back, and was thrown against the big Buddhist altar at the inner part of the room. The huge roof and large quantity of mud tumbled down with a terrible sound upon my body. I felt some pain here and there, but there was not time to take heed. I crept outside, groping to find my way. My eyes, ears, nose and even my mouth were filled with mud. Fortunately, because the big pillars or walls were strong, the patient was only pressed under the straw bed and was saved from a crushing death. I pulled her with all my strength to the veranda. Opening her clothes, I put my ear to her breast directly. I had no stethoscope, but I made sure that her heart beat was normal. With great relief to hear her heart, I looked over the city of Hiroshima again.
“Look! A blazing column is shooting up”. The scarlet column was disguising its head as a huge cloud, and it was climbing more and more to the highest sky, as if it intended to break through the heavens itself. All at once, a chill ran down my spine, and an inexplicable fear crawled up my belly.
“What is this? What am I looking at now?” It was a completely unknown world through all my life experience of twenty-eight years.
The giant cloud had risen splendidly to trample the whole of Hiroshima under its blazing column. Before I was aware of it, responding to instinct, I was kneeling on the ground. An ominous wind began to disturb the leaves, and the cry of villagers reached my ears as they called to each other here and there. Everything was obscured with the sand-like dust as in a fog. Over the hazy scene, the bright sky of August shone. The giant cloud (Kinoko Gumo, Japanese for “mushroom-shaped cloud”) was expanding to the end of heaven, changing its appearance into a range of five colors, as if it intended to put out the clear brightness of the sky.
The farmer came out from the back. His face was clearly filled with fear and doubt. He couldn’t understand why his house had been suddenly broken. Because he had been working in the opposite side of the house under the protection of the wall, he was hidden from the flash and thermic rays. When I pointed to the monster cloud, he lost the strength in his legs and suddenly sat on the ground. I explained to him quickly that his granddaughter was well and asked him to lend me his bicycle. I had to return to Hiroshima as soon as possible.
Under the Kinoko Gumo
I hurried along the Ohta River on the bicycle. The dry white country road led straight to the foot of the Kinoko Gumo. Not a dog was there, not a man. “What happened under that fire, that cloud?” I was filled with awe. Despite this, I was a medical officer and my sense of duty was overwhelming. Only this self-conceit urged me to push forward on the bicycle, overcoming the fear.
There was an Ishijizo (Buddhist stone statue) by the road halfway to the city. From there the road led down a good distance straight ahead and then turned acutely to the left, where the foot of the mountain jutted into the river. I sped down at top speed toward the curve when suddenly something came into my view. I quickly braked. The bicycle bounded and I fell face forward into the bush. I stood up, bearing the pain, and was surprised to see a figure which appeared from the corner.
It was anything but “a man”. The strange figure came up to me little by little, unsteady on its feet. It surely seemed like a man form but was wholly naked, bloody and covered with mud. The body was completely swollen. Many pieces of ragged cloth hung down from its bare breast and waist. The hands were held before the breasts with palms turned down. Water drops dripped from all the tips of the rags. Indeed, it was human skin which I thought was ragged cloth, and the water drops were human blood. I couldn’t distinguish between male and female or soldier or citizen. It had a curious large head, swollen eyelids and big projected lips grew as if they formed half of its face. There was no hair on its burned head. I stepped backwards in spite of myself. Surely this strange thing was a “man”. But it was a mass of burnt flesh hanging like rawhide, and it was covered with blood and mud.
He appeared to be able to see. He found me with his burnt eyes and tried to hastily get near me. It must have been his last exertion, for he fell there at last. I drew near immediately and tried to feel his pulse. However, his skin was totally burnt, and there was no place to touch to feel the beat of an artery. After his body convulsed, I could not find any sign of life. I was in need of someone to help me but could find no house close by. I had to hurry to the hospital and intended to leave immediately, but I could not move one step. “Look!” Denuded, burnt and bloody numberless survivors stood in my way. They were massed together, some crawling on their knees or on all fours; some stood with difficulty or leaned on another’s shoulder. Not one showed any sign which forced me to recognize him as a human being.
I was quite at a loss as to what to do, because I carried no medicine or medical instruments with me. It was impossible to push my way through those miserable victims. I jumped into the river with no hesitation.
I hurried down the river under the luxuriant summer overgrowth of grass along the bank. Volumes of dark smoke began to eddy with a hard wind on the surface of the water. The burning wind blew against my face and hot smoke choked my breath. I realized that the furious wind was coming from the fire in the city.
Soon I noticed that the rock of the river bed changed to sand under my feet, and I knew that I had reached Choju-En, one of the famous parks on the outskirts of the city. I was already caught in a storm of blazing wind with deep red flames. Whenever the burning heat attacked me, I drove my face into the water, holding my breath. The bright sky of high summer could not be seen. The water turned deep red, reflecting the blazing flame, and a driving black wind sprayed and struck my cheek.
The river was divided into two branches from that point. One of them led straight into Hiroshima Bay, and the other one, the Kanda River, turned to the left. The Hesaka road crossed over at the foot of the Kanda River over a suspension bridge and went into the city, passing an engineer corps site on the opposite bank. Suddenly the wind changed its direction. The dark smoke which obscured my vision moved downstream. Unexpectedly, the blue sky appeared with the brightness of high noon. The vast extent of Choju-En’s waterside was filled with a large number of burned humans as far as the eye could see. The greater number of them who lay in the water were rolling slowly at the mercy of the waves and must have been corpses. Innumerable survivors crept up one after another, some crawling over the others. The suspension bridge was in flames, with large volumes of black smoke. These many creatures of flesh moved slowly on the bridge at a snail’s pace. Some of them fell into the water, their strength gone before my eyes. The engineering corps area on the opposite bank was exploding all over. The dark smoke eddied in the sky over the flames. Sparks colored the dark cloud, accompanied by thunderous sounds as in a fireworks display.
A number of survivors fell into the water, driven away by the heavy fire in the city, but their way was barred by the river. Far from entering the city, I couldn’t take even one step forward and would have gone on standing there blankly [in the water]. A great many survivors with no human faces or speech walked past me.
The corpses, some of them coming to the surface, some suspended in the depths, knocked against my body, swirled in their length and floated down river. Whenever I saw a little innocent one among them, I looked up to the sky, biting my lip to control myself from the feeling of crying. There was the enormous mushroom-shaped cloud over me, shining with five colors with the infinite height of the blue sky over the whirling black smoke.
At that time, two metal boats of the engineer corps, filled with soldiers, rowed down the river under command of a young officer. I knew him well, because he had been engaged in tunnel work above Hesaka. When he arrived beside me, he jumped into the water and, holding the boats, said loudly, “Go back to Hesaka at once. It is filled with wounded. They are waiting for you, doctor”. I understood the state of affairs at once. He shook my hand and disappeared in the smoke with his soldiers, promising to look into the fate of the military hospital. To my sorrow, it was the last time I saw him.
The Field Hospital in Hesaka
The way back to Hesaka was extraordinarily long because I had to go upstream. Going against the current under the bush along the bank, I saw many victims who, breathing their last breath, fell from the road in their desire for water. I didn’t know what time it was; my watch was useless having become wet in the river.
I arrived at the familiar levee of Hesaka. When I looked at the village while standing on the levee, I sat down in spite of myself. In fact, I was so tired that I couldn't keep standing, but my legs really gave way when I saw the extraordinary sight of the village.
Two important roads crossed in a T-shape in the village. One of them passed through going north along the river from Hiroshima. The other road ran perpendicular to the first, going over the pass along the Geibi railway from Kaidaichi town. I stood on just that T-shaped crossroad.
Oh, what a fearful sight it was. A great many victims filled the road, school ground and all the other open places as far as I could see. The primary school, which I had used as the base for construction work until the preceding day, lost its entire roof; and the greater part of the schoolhouses were destroyed, leaving only one which faced the hill behind. The ground was filled with debris, but what was a more cruel sight was the number of raw bodies lying one upon another on the bare ground. Though the road of course was full of them already, the bloody burnt victims kept creeping in one after another. They made a pile of flesh at the entrance to the school. The lower layers must have been corpses, because they emanated that peculiar nasty smell of the dead mingled with blood and burnt flesh.
The tent for medical treatment had been set up temporarily on the corner of the grounds, and D. F., the president of the branch hospital who had arrived at his post only the previous day, was fully involved in first aid treatment along with his aides.
In a room of the school which had narrowly escaped collapse, the village headman, the schoolmaster and other staff people were conferring but were bewildered by the unexpected serious affair. As soon as I entered, the village headman stood up and pointed out of the window, mumbling something. There the villagers with folded arms stood in lines on the footpath in the rice fields, as if they were sparrows perched on an electric wire. They had nowhere to go except to run out of doors in fear, because the bloody victims had come into their houses silently, one after another.
I pointed out to them some emergency measures which had to be taken by the village authorities: 1) sound a tocsin [alarm bell] and gather all villagers immediately; 2) prepare an emergency kitchen and offer rice taken from the army; 3) prepare a quantity of seed oil, soy bean oil and rags as much as can be obtained; and 4) prepare an emergency crematory. Someone murmured after the last suggestion, “We do not cremate but inter only”.
I said, “Good. Inter all you want. There are more than five hundred corpses at a glance. Will you try to dig all your paddy fields?” After this conflict and in response to my request, the village headman and his assistant were forced to offer their own forest to set up the crematory.
All the villagers gathered before the village office and began to prepare the emergency kitchen and burn treatment center. There were only women and aged men, because all the young people were fighting at the front. Some of the very aged set about to gather the corpses under the command of a sergeant. The temporary stretchers were made with bamboo and straw rope, and hundreds of terrible looking corpses were carried out on them, one after another. They were not so much human bodies as they were masses of burnt flesh. Despite this, no tears or sentimentality could be indulged. To recover the victim who yet breathed, even if after our efforts he died, was the most urgent and necessary duty at that time. In fact, innumerable survivors continued to take refuge toward Hesaka from under the foot of Kinoko Gumo.
When rice gruel was boiled, the victims who lay all over the ground had been helped a little, and they were covered with straw mats to shut off the strong sunlight. But soon many of them were changed into corpses under these heart-felt straw mats and were carried out on the bamboo stretchers. As soon as one disappeared, a new one filled the vacant space.
A great number of them suffered from injuries as well as burns. The nurses, sanitary soldiers and village women applied rags immersed in soy bean oil on the burnt wounds of the victims, one by one, carrying the oil dressing in their hands. Some sprinkled their wounds with wet leaves. Though this treatment had been neglected as a mere popular remedy, victims who were treated this way were all pleased as far as I know.
Three doctors (including me) devoted themselves to first aid treatment. At that time, no medicines or instruments had arrived at the Hesaka branch of Hiroshima Military Hospital, and needed personnel had arrived only the day before. We had used all the instruments and materials that we could obtain. These precious items, despite their small quantity, were offered from goodwill by a doctor’s family, the doctor having gone to the front. I stopped some bleeding, put sutures in some wounds and pulled out pieces of glass, too.
The Fearful Night
There was a boy, four or five years old, making a piercing cry. His pain was not due to an unusual burn. A big piece of broken glass had plunged into his bare belly and had cut the peritoneum. The greater momentum broke through the wound like a hydrangea. I bound its root and burned it with red hot tongs after making sure that the intestine was not severed. The boy lost consciousness and was brought to an old village woman who was fond of children.
An old woman had been caught by a falling concrete wall. She was caught by the arm and endangered by fire, but fortunately was freed and brought to Hesaka with an arm discolored and hanging by her side. There was no way to save her except to cut off her dead arm. The preparation for amputation was put in order at once. She was bound firmly on a doorboard. The operation had to be done under local anesthesia. Her arm was separated from her shoulder with fine knife work by a surgeon who had refined his skills at the front. She fainted away from the fearful pain. Her daughter, who had held her mother’s arm, dropped it on the ground because of the unexpected heavy weight. The bloody arm rolled far down, as if it were a living thing, and settled at the edge of the road. To my fear, its white finger pointed to the Giant Cloud just blazing in scarlet, reflecting the evening glow in the western sky.
There was a young girl whose body was cruelly burnt on its upper half. She had no rag to cover her. She had no wound [below] her belly, and her clear skin caught the people’s eyes. Someone who could not tolerate her nudity had wound a cloth around her waist. The girl was already mad. As often as the cloth was placed on her, she stripped it off, tore it to pieces. Grimacing with her burnt face in an ugly manner, she walked among the area crowded with wounded and corpses. Sometimes she stumbled over the dead, and sometimes she fell on the wounded. Whenever she moved, her exposed white thigh threatened all others, as if it were some strange living thing. Having lost patience with her, someone pushed her back harshly.
The girl fell down and began to cry loudly, clinging to an unknown corpse on the ground. The sun had set and, rising enormously in the dark sky, the ominous Kinoko Gumo began to change its shape. Treatment continued in the dark of the night without light.
I planned to extract a large piece of broken plate glass which had plunged into the girl’s breast. Her face and breast were badly burned. Careful technique and concentration of spirit were necessary to pull out the unsteady glass which had penetrated deeply, pointing its sharp nib toward the deeper structures
Near me a young mother, who carried her baby on her back, entreated me tearfully for some time. Her appearance was fearful with a brutally burned face. She repeated the same request so often that I remembered every detail. Her house had been enveloped in flames in a split second. Giving up her other three children who were burned to death, she ran away with the youngest baby, carrying it on her back. The baby was a substitute for the others. “Please help my baby, doctor, please”, she repeated incessantly. The baby seemed one or two years old. He was already dead and exuded a putrid smell. A large incised wound was on the back of his thigh.
I was about to pull out the glass plate which I grabbed with the point of a Kocher clamp, concentrating my spirit into the finger tips so that I would not break the glass. At that moment the young mother clung to me, causing me to shake off her grasping arm. The plate was broken to pieces, and the remainder got into the breast more deeply. The people around us gasped. “I will help him. Take down the baby”, one said.
I gripped her arm, untied the rope and held the baby in my arms There was no burn anywhere on his cold skin. One of the nurses applied antiseptic solution thoroughly to his large gaping wound and bandaged it firmly. I said, “That’s 0K. Never awaken him tonight. You must sleep to the full for your milk to flow well tomorrow morning”. The young mother joined her hands together toward me again and went away, holding her dead baby on her bloody breast to where no one knew.
The people wept aloud all at once. I felt human feeling coming to life again for the first time since the day before. My eyes were ready to overflow with tears. I spoke to myself, biting my lip so that I would not cry. If I had cried at that time, I would have lost my courage to keep standing there anymore.
There descended a nightmarish night in which the whole village was turned into a field hospital. The mysterious form of the Kinoko Gumo which spread over the star-lit sky was more uncanny and more frightening than in the daytime.
The various naked human voices filled the field, mixing groans, crying, sobbing and shouts. The heartless wind blew through the twigs of the trees in the back hill. The stream of the Ohta River went on alone, running to the south as if it showed us that time is forever. We went on with the treatment through the night under candle light. Finding their way into the village by two roads, the number of wounded increased during the night. The stretcher group repeated the round trip between the far coppice at the end of the village, but the number of victims didn’t decrease at all, however hard the stretcher-bearers worked.
Sergeant S. came to report. He had deep set eyes. He said that they had carried off more than two hundred bodies, but still there were innumerable ones on the road. He wanted my approval to leave the bodies until the next day because they were so fatigued. I nodded my permission, of course. When he was about to go after bowing to me, I suddenly heard a loud voice, “Bomber! Enemy!” Someone blew out the candle immediately.
The certain familiar roar of the B-29 bomber reached my ears from the farthest heaven. Deep silence fell upon the whole school. Cold fear stole into everyone’s heart. “It may be possibly flash again.” The memory of the shocking moment of that morning caught the heart of everybody. Sometimes near, sometimes from afar, its metallic sound coming in waves, the roaring went away in the distance little by little, as if it intended to prolong the fear of the people.
“Hang it! We are only blameless women, children and the aged. Why do we have to have such a bad time?”, someone cried out with a sorrowful voice in the dark.
“Mama”, a shriek of a child went through the breast. Suddenly a number of people broke into tears all at once, shaking the night air over the ruins of the primary school.
I left there in silence and walked to seek a place where I could be alone. Picking out a cigarette from my breast pocket, I struck a match. The yellow ring [of flame] lit a tear on my cheek.
“Please! Somebody!” A shrill voice in alarm was heard near the entrance. As I looked through the dark, I perceived several sanitary soldiers surrounding a crouched figure. I ran there, weaving my way through the wounded, and saw a face as white as a sheet with long disordered hair. She held a baby in her left arm and pressed her left breast with her right hand. A large quantity of blood spouted off and on between her fingers.
“Cheer up. Don’t give up”, we encouraged her. The surgeon ran up. “Where are you from?”, we asked.
“Where is your husband?”
“If he is alive, he would be of use somewhere”, she answered.
The sterilized Kocher was thrust quickly into the wound and roughly clamped the broken blood vessel. I bound thread firmly in the tepid flesh of the breast, concentrating with all my might on the tip of my finger which was slippery with clammy blood. When the treatment was finished, the woman held her baby gently to her breast at our feet, and I stood up with great relief, having succeeded in stopping the bleeding.
In the Lost City
The weather on August seventh was fine, too. The small Hesaka village was filled with visitors who came from afar, looking for their relatives and friends. This added to the great many wounded who continuously found their way there, so that the branch hospital was very much crowded with the burned victims and corpses. As soon as day broke, the stretcher groups began their activity and carried out bodies one by one. A fire was going in the temporary crematory which was set up in the coppice at the end of the village. The rising sun began to come over the peak above the valley. The smoke which rose in the sky from the crematory was colored pink with morning mist.
Everyone had gotten some sleep that night. I threw myself into emergency treatment, grabbing and pouring food and water for the survivors who were standing in a long file. I did not care anymore that there was a bloody smell on the tips of my fingers which grasped the food.
About 10:00 a.m., the emergency call from D.H.Q. was transmitted from nobody knows where, and it was decided to send me as a liaison. Fortunately, the hands to do treatment were increased at a stroke, because the relief corps arrived with a full load of material and medicine on the backs of horses from several distant branch hospitals. I walked the road along the river over which I had gone on the bicycle the preceding day. The Kinoko Gumo overspread the city of Hiroshima, changing from the mushroom shape into a common dark cloud. The corpses stood in the way everywhere, and the burnt wounded pursued me with only their eyes, having no energy to speak. The stream of the river ran down vividly alone by the road.
Before long, I arrived at Choju-En. Some burned black bodies clung to the suspension bridge, which hadn’t burnt down. I crossed the river under it, waist deep in water. White smoke rose up in thick clouds over the grounds of the engineer corps, which had burned away completely; and a breeze blew through, waking small flames on the pile of burnt charcoal. The road ran into the city from there, passing under the railroad — the Sanyo Line. I climbed up on the levee and stood on the track. Though I couldn’t understand how it happened, the surface of all the ties were similarly burnt.
“Look!” There was no city but only a burnt field. The whole city was reduced to ashes in one day. I could see the water of Hiroshima Bay shining with summer daylight beyond a few ruins of buildings, which were the only obstruction of the sea view. The familiar tower of Hiroshima Castle was not to be found anywhere.
Some people walked forming a line, seeking their friends and family here and there among the light colored smoke thinly rising. However, at that time, no one expected that many people who came would be killed by residual radiation.
I ran down the levee toward the stone wall, which showed the location of D.H.Q. All roads had disappeared under the ruins of the city houses, and tangled electrical wires alone told roads’ direction. I began to walk toward the castle’s stone wall directly on the debris, guided by the electrical wire. Ashes were yet burning and little fires remained here and there. Burned flesh and bone could be seen under my foot, and sometimes I felt I could hear a groan.
I reached the burned field of the military hospital. Three corpses could be seen before the main office, but they were nothing but burned black flesh beyond recognition. The green color of the lawn was too bright for my depressed heart. There were two submerged dead horses in the debris of the burnt cookery. “How had they died? In the fire?” My attention was attracted to portions of remaining shiny black skin.
Beyond I saw the ruins of wards with broken iron beds lined side by side. To my surprise, all their legs were similarly bent. It clearly told of the enormous strength of the bomb blast. It had crushed at a stroke from that distance such strong iron frames. “What kind of power was this?” I wondered. It was not until that time that I could understand the dreadful truth of its force which I had heard the day before, that is that there were many bodies whose intestines had been forced out their anus. Probably those would have been killed instantly before the fire affected them. The skeletons lay covered with ashes on the burned wire melting of the broken beds, which stood side by side.
I crossed over the bank of the lawn and entered the ground of the next corps. There were a number of dead soldiers in orderly rows at regular intervals. They must have been struck during their training period. All of the left sides of their faces and left arms were similarly burned. I thought that their deaths were due to a monumental bomb blast.
Quickening my steps, I was led to the moatside. The great lotus leaves had risen to the surface, and the shadow of the mossy stone wall reflected on the stagnant water, deeply impressing the flavor of the old castle. But it was very cruel that the pine tree, with its beautiful spread of branches, fell half in the water, having been torn at its trunk. Many big fish had risen to the surface showing their bellies, but other small fish moved in the water, their backs burned a uniform white. The great vanished tower gate of this historic place was completely burned down, and the pile of charcoal still flamed up here and there. Of course, there was no guard.
On my way to the ruins of the castle tower, I saw a man at the root of a big zelcova tree beside a little pond. He had no clothes except for short pants, and his bare skin was strangely white. I immediately became aware that he was a foreign prisoner. Surely he was a crew member of a plane which had been shot down. His hands were tied behind his back and to the trunk of the tree. Turning his boyish face on hearing my footsteps, he appealed to me in English. Though I couldn’t understand him, his gesture told clearly that he wanted water. I saw the pond reflecting light. The surface shined dazzlingly in the high noon. Momentarily, uneasiness flashed in my mind that he was one of the enemy who burned and killed citizens of Japan. But hesitation soon faded away. Standing silently behind him, I cut the rope with my sword. Being unable to understand why he had come unexpectedly free, he crept backward looking at me. I pointed at the pond without speaking and ran off quickly from there.
In Hiroshima, in fact, the will to continue the battle had disappeared since the previous day, but in Japan the fight had somehow kept on. Thinking about my impulse to set the prisoner free made my heart beat rapidly.
D.H.Q. was located in front of the wreck of the castle tower. Although it was called D.H.Q., there was nothing there except for many men. Lying on the ground was a high level officer who was bandaged completely except for his eyes. Some bloody bandaged officers sat on the ground surrounding him. The unit flag raised above only barely showed the authority of the group. A man stood up and reported the actual condition of his Corps. He was so badly burned and wounded that he could stand only with difficulty. After he ended his report, the next officer followed with his. No matter how long I kept listening, I realized that no corps contained more than one hundred soldiers. The army of the Hiroshima Division had disappeared completely. Although covered with mud and dust, my normal appearance must have seemed strange because the others were dreadful with burns and blood.
Then my turn came. I reported about the state of affairs in the Hesaka branch concisely. If I remember all right, the entire number of the staff and patients in the Hiroshima hospital were about 1500. There were only seventeen who were confirmed to be alive.
I left the castle in haste on the pretext of my duty as a doctor. Though I didn’t intend to feel guilty, it had gone on pricking my conscience that I had freed the prisoner without permission. I walked straight toward the Hiroshima Station. As far as I walked, there was only the rubble of the tiles and stones in the city. Some sick soldiers must have been at the station just at the time of the bombing, and they had come to move into the hospital as their home. It is sad to think about them for they were all lepers. They lived lonely lives in the isolation ward, which was still more isolated in the inner part of the infection ward. Being struck by the severity of their lives, I had had charge of their treatment for a few months as a volunteer.
I walked along the rail line of the streetcar under the blazing sun, recalling each face one by one. I saw a few standing corpses hanging on the straps in a tram car.
The station was reduced to only burnt embers, and repairs had begun on the mainline. There were many people who gathered from long distances on foot, asking about their relatives’ condition. The corpses accepted a large area in front of the station and gave off the peculiar smell of burned flesh behind the station. I tried to speak to some of the people around me, but no one had information. I picked up a few grains of sand and put them in my palm. A blast of wind blew them off one by one, as if each was a symbol of my dear lost people to whom I couldn’t say goodbye.
Opening of a Tragedy
I think that it was about a week after the bombing that the unexpected event began to appear as symptoms in the survivors in Hesaka. Something unusual might have happened clearly before that time. We must have failed to notice such changes in the patients’ conditions, because many victims were dying with heavy burns and fatal wounds every day.
About a week after the bombing, most of the patients who had been expected to die were all dead. The signs of recovery began to appear little by little in those patients who were severely burned. Though they had an appalling appearance with the burns and wounds, the deepness of the burns were comparatively shallow. We began to expect them to recover more speedily than their appearance would indicate.
During this period, a field hospital had been set up. It consisted of mesh screening supported by poles. The ground was covered with straw mats. The medical groups were composed of personnel sent from military hospitals in every district. They took charge of all the patients, including those in the farmer’s houses which had been used as wards, and they began to efficiently care for the patients. The director had already come back, and the hospital was beginning to recover its function. The numbers of medical technicians was not adequate for the mass of patients. Therefore, the walking wounded helped, as did the women’s club. The doctor’s wife who had her breast wound sutured was fully active. Her baby was cared for by an older woman.
The treatment was mainly for burns and wounds. In spite of insufficient treatment and imperfect sterilization, we experienced few mutilations. A number of flies flocked together on the wounds of serious victims who couldn’t move, and big white maggots crowded around in their eyes, ears and noses. Strange to say, we were helped by the maggots which ate all the necrotic tissue which cleaned the wounds.
The accident happened at a time just like that. The report of a nurse one day raised the curtain on a serious affair which made us run about restlessly for a long time. She said that some patients had a sudden attack of high fever above forty degrees Celsius [104 degrees Fahrenheit]. We ran up in a hurry. The patients sweated like a waterfall, and their tonsils became necrotic. While we were confused by the severity and violence of their symptoms, they began to bleed from their mucous membranes and soon spat a quantity of blood.
There was a sudden violent bleeding. Though emergency transfusions and Ringer’s solution infusion were given, the number of serious patients was not just a few. The survivors fell ill by the fives and sixes at a stroke. In fact, the doctors seriously thought that this was typhoid or dysentery. Of course, clotting agents and hemostatic medicines were used, but they had no effect except to ease our minds. It was at that time, too, that an uncanny depilation began among the survivors, which they called “meeting”. Their hair fell out under their hands, as if their heads were shaved, when they raised their hands to their head while struggling with the pain. Having such severe symptoms of fever, throat pain, bleeding and depilation, the survivors fell into a dangerous condition in less than an hour. There were only a few patients who had a narrow escape from death, despite all our efforts with Ringer’s solution and even blood transfusions.
The survivors fell ill seven or eight at a time, and died in the same way, too. As I look back on it now, they who were irradiated with the same dose of radiation at the same distance from the epicenter fell ill and died doing nothing but obeying the laws of nuclear physics, just as would irradiated experimental animals. However, at that time we couldn’t know that it was caused by an atomic bomb, which Japanese G.H.Q. announced as a new powerful bomb. We thought in earnest about dysentery because of the intestinal bleeding which was common to the majority of the cases.
Under the command of the director, autopsies were performed in the dead of the night, keeping them secret from the patients and the villagers. It was a rainy dark night. I laid one of the corpses (which were piled up on the field, waiting for cremation) on a sheet of metal and cut the abdominal skin with a sharp knife. The director held an umbrella over me. An aim of the autopsy was whether or not inflammation was the cause of bleeding in the intestines. I examined the mucous membranes carefully, flushing it with water from a bucket under the candlelight, but no dysentery-like sign was found.
Before long, the situation had taken a new turn when we heard the rumor that the Navy radio station in Kure had monitored an American radio broadcast stating that an atomic bomb had been used in Hiroshima. The peculiar syndrome which we had been unable to explain now could be understood as acute radioactive disease, with disorder of the blood making organ. Even if we had known this before, there would not have been effective treatment. Someone began to speak about the effective use of vitamin-rich persimmon leaves for this syndrome. The leaves were instantly gathered and used with great conviction by many survivors. The doctors laughed away, saying that it was no more than superstition. It was true, however, that it appeared to be effective for many people.
There were some strange cases which could not be explained. Mr. T.’s house was at the corner of an old street in Hakushima-macho, which was surrounded by white walls. He led a frugal lonely life with his wife after his three sons had been sent to the front. On the morning of August sixth, while he was having breakfast, his precious teacup was accidently broken to pieces. He was fond of the cup, which was so unique that he couldn’t bring himself to drink without it. Wearing no clothes except for a pair of short pants, he went to the air raid shelter in the garden for another cup. The moment he entered the shelter and closed the thick cover over his head, the bomb exploded. His house collapsed on his wife with a thunderous sound, covering her with glass and blood. Fire broke out here and there, and when he put his head out of the shelter, he saw the flames in clouds of smoke.
“Fire!” He jumped out and found his wife unconscious, bathed in her blood. She regained consciousness and, running about to make their escape in the fire of Hakushima-macho, they arrived at the Kanda River. The river seemed as if it was about to blaze up, reflecting the flame on its surface. They passed a sleepless night, soaking their bodies half in the river. The next morning, Mr. T. crossed over the pass toward Hesaka with his wife on his back. She had lost her vigor to go on, and they established themselves in the shed of a certain farmer’s house. By chance, I had lodged at this couple’s house after I had arrived in Hiroshima. While I pulled out pieces of glass penetrating her body, I received his report.
On the fourth day after the bombing, Mr. T. borrowed a hoe and a cycle trailer and went back to the city under the burning sun. He was wearing only a pair of short pants. He dug the shelter out of the ruins of his house, which he found with difficulty, and he returned carrying necessary clothing, bedding, etc. on the trailer. Washing off the dust and sweat at the well-side, he became aware of some blisters as big as a thumb on both kneecaps. He could not remember anything unusual on his knees that morning when he had sat down on a tree stump while having a pipe. Also, he did not remember having burned himself that day. He felt no pain or itching. Because he was dead tired, he slept, ignoring it that night.
The next morning, to his surprise, the bubbles spread out from ankle to knee, as if he had put a rubber balloon on his legs. A sanitary soldier who had just come to treat Mrs. T. removed the secretion in the blister with a syringe, remarking that it was strange for sunburn. The edema recurred in a short time. Mr. T. extracted the fluid with a needle by himself. The swelling and removal of fluid continued for four or five days; as often as he removed the fluid, the urticaria [hives] recurred like a living thing. The victims who were dying with strange symptoms began to increase in number and he [Mr. T.] began to feel uneasy, so he asked me to examine him soon. I couldn’t respond to his request because I was hard pressed with dangerously ill patients. One evening, I found some free time and hurried to see him.
When I entered the shed, I saw his wife holding her husband and [she] had broken down crying. Mr. T. had breathed his last, lying in a pool of blood. Just that noon I had seen his smile and had heard him say, waving his hand, “Please drop in on your way home. I will make good tea.” Mr. T. had sweated over his entire body after noon and had scratched his neck complaining of pain in his throat. Soon he began to bleed at the nose and had bloody excrement. “I was in the shelter, so I never met with Pika Don (which people named the atomic bomb). For all that, my hair — impossible.” Under his palm, the hair fell down as if it had been swept away.
Why had Mr. T., who didn’t receive direct radiation beams in the shelter (which had been made so carefully), died with the same symptoms as those victims who were irradiated directly? A long time passed before we could solve this riddle.
At this juncture, I have to talk about a couple that my uncle knew, whose death seemed to be connected with this problem. Mr. Y. was his name, and he was a healthy businessman of forty years. On that day, August sixth, he had gone fishing in the Ohbatake channel, starting the previous midnight. Shortly before noon, he heard that Hiroshima was likely in flames from bombing. The train could not take him as far as Hiroshima. He walked from Hatsukaichi-cho, seeing the burning sky of Hiroshima from about ten miles away. When he came to Hiroshima, Hakushima-cho, where his house had been, was then in blazing flames. After beating about in the fire, he was informed that someone saw a woman resembling his wife at nearby Nigitsu Shrine. At midnight, he found her in the river bed under the shrine. They were glad in each others arms. The next morning they left Hiroshima to see if they had any surviving relatives in the town of Itsukaidi.
Shortly their happiness was shattered. First, his wife died on the tenth day after the bombing. Next, to my surprise, Mr. Y. breathed his last, as if he followed her in the excess of his grief.
Much later, their final condition was described to me by the doctor who attended them and felt their last pulse. According to him, they suffered from high fever, bleeding, necrosis of the tonsils and depilation, as those who had direct irradiation. Strangely, Mrs. Y. had neither been burned or hurt — to say nothing of direct irradiation, because she was in an inner room. Concerning Mr. Y., the doctor was unable to assign the cause of his death, because he had been on a fishing boat in the Ohbatake channel about forty miles from Hiroshima.
Speaking of strange deaths, I must tell about the young mother who made me pretend to treat her dead baby. About two weeks after that night, I found her in the village, somehow recovering and caring for other patients. It appeared that she had almost overcome her tremendous sorrow, but on her face, ugly keloids [abnormal scars] began to erupt. She thanked me for the kindness I had shown to her lost baby. She did not complain about her loss. I was pleased that she regained her strength of healthy spirit, which had overcome her grief.
But alas, a few days later to my surprise, I heard of her death. She bled suddenly from her mouth, nose and rectum. Her hair suddenly dropped off, and she began running a high temperature [only] fifteen minutes after the other symptoms appeared.
Though the survivors escaped an early death, the trend of death from atomic disease was not slowed. The fire had blazed in the crematory day and night, but it couldn't burn the number of bodies which increased one by one and were put on the foot path in the rice field, side by side waiting their turn.
At this time, the number of newly arrived survivors declined. Earlier there was an uneasy feeling about the increasing population, but at this stage there was a rapid decrease. A few were able to seek refuge with their relatives but the greater part of them, which could not be numbered, were changed into uncanny light smoke, and they disappeared over the sky of Hesaka.
Near the end of August it became possible to take the patients from Hesaka to hospitals in the San-In district, because the Geibi Line was re-opened for traffic, which until this time had been cut off. This event set the whole village in an uproar. The walking patients were able to go home if they went to Matsui City and transferred to another line. Though the Sanyo Line had been re-opened two days after the bombing, it was difficult for the wounded to find a seat on the train because it was filled with soldiers who had been demobilized from the corps in every district.
At seven o’clock in the morning, the survivors were gathering on the railway to await the train. Some were leaning on their staffs and some were holding on the shoulder of a friend they had made while lying on the foot path in the rice field. They felt relieved to be alive and were anticipating the joy of seeing their families.
Among them was a couple I knew. He was a sergeant-major and was one of my friends. He had brought his fiancée from his native village, and they were happily married three days before the bombing. That morning both of them were seriously wounded, he on his way to D.H.Q. and she in her kitchen. Fortunately, they didn’t die and escaped to Hesaka separately, where they lay on the ground of the primary school.
Then without knowledge of each other, they were brought together, because the patients who separated them died and were carried out. For a while they were not aware of each other, because their faces were cruelly burned. Before long they recognized the other’s voice. They were overjoyed with their chance meeting, crying in each other’s arms. This heart-warming episode was known to all the patients and villagers at once. It was a topic which gave joy and the hope of living to the dejected hearts of the people who were tortured with hellish pain. Having been encouraged by all the well-wishers and co-sufferers in the village, it appeared that their physical strength was recovering day by day, except for the ugly keloid scars. Eventually, they were able to help us treat other patients.
The sergeant came to me with his wife and expressed thanks for my treatment. His wife was neatly dressed; the clothing was a parting gift from a villager. He lowered his head to me many times saying, “I am going to work to grow rice with all my might and mind.” As he was about to go out the door, he stumbled against the threshold. Suddenly he knelt down, holding his mouth with his hand. Blood overflowed between his fingers. This incident occurred in the wink of an eye. I was filled with pity as I saw the back of his wife, who held on to her husband who was carried out on a bloody stretcher. He collapsed on the bed and began to run a fever. Whenever he tore at his hair, it fell out. His wife, astounded and stricken, was crying and clinging to her husband. A few minutes later, her tears were replaced by blood too, and her hair had the same fate. In spite of nursing all night, the sergeant breathed his last the next morning, and soon she followed in the steps of her husband.
It was not only there that tragedy happened. The train came into the station slowly, trailing white smoke for a long stretch, and the people who were waiting patiently began to get into the train with a great joy when a shrill voice cried out behind the crowd. A woman of middle age, who had said she was going back home to Toyana, fell down on the platform. As if it were a signal, others began to experience pain and high fever among those already in the train. Then the whole platform became a place of utter confusion. Because the schedule had to be met, the unfortunate patients were left in care of a rescue party, and the train started to the north, making the mountainside echo with sharp whistles. In all, six patients, including the sergeant and his bride, were dead among those who had taken pleasure in anticipation of going home.
Most of the survivors left Hesaka with the next three trains. Some went to the hospital in the San-In district, some went home, but some had to go to distant places to seek their relatives, in spite of the fact that they had been born in Hiroshima, because their homes and families had been lost at a stroke.
We don’t know what happened to those who departed without incident.
Epilogue: Physical Effects of Radiation Poisoning
Following is a paper Dr. Hida presented in May 1999 at the Hague Appeal for World Peace Conference in the Netherlands. Dr. Hida was part of a “Global Hibakusha” delegation to the conference. The term “Hibakusha” originally meant those persons who were affected by the atomic bombs and survived. More recently, it has also been used generally to designate persons affected by radioactivity from any source.
Based on my experience, I want to report on the deaths of those killed by nuclear weapons, hoping that it will help promote the movement for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
1. The A-bomb radiation kills humans in two ways: 1) high-level radiation released by explosion pierces the human body from the outside and destroys many organs simultaneously, causing death to victims, and 2) radiation from radioactive substances taken into the human body turns oxygen molecules in bodily fluid into activated oxygen, which in turn damages chromosomes in cells, resulting in diseases and subsequent death.
2. Deaths caused by acute radiation disorders and sub-acute disorders (Acute disorder means the state of pan-histophythisis, in which multiple organs are damaged simultaneously. Sub-acute disorder means delayed effects caused by the internal exposure to residual radioactivity.):
Within a few days of the bombing, many people died after exhibiting such violent symptoms as high fever, diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding from mucous membranes, vomiting blood, bloody stool, and gangrene of palatal membranes. This continued for months. Dr. Juan Amano’s theory explains why some symptoms appeared later than others — why some Hibakusha die immediately, while others did not suffer these symptoms for months: Neutrons released as radiation from the A-bomb turned the phosphorus in bones and the brain into radioactive phosphorus, which irradiated and damaged the body cells from within. (Research report of the Science Council of Japan, “Report 1-4 of A-bomb Disorders”) It was not until 1973, when Canadian doctor Abram Petkau announced that low-level radiation was more destructive to cell membranes than high-level radiation, that the scientific analysis on the disorders caused by internal exposure to residual radioactivity became possible.
3. Deaths from chronic symptoms (ranging from A-bomb Bura-bura disease to leukemia, cancer, multiple tumors of bone marrow):
In 1946, many Hibakusha began to suffer A-bomb Bura-bura disease. Patients became lethargic, easily fatigued, and impatient, even as they seemed clinically normal. They easily caught colds and, once they did, they took a long time to recover. This condition made it difficult for them to continue working and degraded their already poor living condition. There were many cases in which patients caught a slight cold and then, quite suddenly, developed a fatal case of tuberculosis. The doctors had to be very careful in treating the A-bomb Bura-bura disease.
In 1946, leukemia began attacking the Hibakusha. The number of those who developed the disease gradually increased and reached its peak in 1953-54. A little later, other forms of cancer ravaged the Hibakusha. Surveys show that the rate of cancer death of the Hibakusha is higher than that of non-Hibakusha. (According to a survey in Saitama prefecture in 1987, 58% of Hibakusha deaths were caused by cancer.) Surviving Hibakusha fear cancer the most. Myeloma (multiple tumors of the bone marrow) does not occur frequently in the general population. But among the Hibakusha, myeloma is not uncommon. Due to its frequency among Hibakusha, it is listed as one of the radiation-induced diseases in the Hibakusha Aid Law. The disease is much feared by the Hibakusha, as it is quickly fatal.
4. Deaths caused by the lowering of immunity function and healing ability:
The Hibakusha as well as non-Hibakusha contract adult and other chronic diseases as they get older. However, even with proper treatment and health care in their daily lives, the Hibakusha have more cases of unstable conditions and complications than the general public. Their conditions tend to suddenly deteriorate, leading to unexpected death in many cases.
5. The notion of nuclear deterrence is wrong:
The nuclear deterrence doctrine, which regards the possession of nuclear arms as useful means to deter nuclear war, suggests that the mere possession of nuclear weapons is safe and harmless. Maintaining those nuclear weapons, without ever using them, still requires that they be frequently updated and that new weapons be developed. In every stage of the nuclear development process, from mining and refining of uranium, production of warheads, their stockpiling and transportation, to the disposal of nuclear waste, Hibakusha are created by residual radioactivity. Nuclear deterrence theory can boast a new generation of Hibakusha who suffer with radiation-induced diseases and who will not appear in official records.
We must not overlook the fact that the practice of deterrence has been lulling international and national opinion on the abolition of nuclear weapons into a false sense of security.
6. Nuclear arms trigger a new war:
The wars in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf, waged after World War II, all began with the conviction that the war could be won in the long run through the threat of nuclear weapons. If there had not been nuclear weapons, the decision to start the Gulf War could not have been made so easily. Nuclear arms do not prevent war. On the contrary, they increase the temptation to start a war.
The elimination of nuclear weapons is the only guarantee for the survival of humankind.