Record by an Army Doctor
1. The day Hiroshima disappeared
I woke up with some glaring sunbeams on my face. That day, the 6th of August, was beginning. I was thinking that I was to be released from duty as chief of the Hesaka working party and would be ordered to a new post that day.
I noticed that the state of the interior was different. I remembered correctly that I slept the previous night on the bed temporarily arranged in the X-ray room in the hospital. I looked about and found the back of a small patient lying on the other side of the room. At that moment, I recalled what happened the night before.
We had come back to Hiroshima about eight o'clock when the long summer day was drawing to a close. Unluckily, both the Director and the General Affairs Section Chief of the hospital were away in Osaka on official business, so I could not report and receive a new order. While I was killing time walking about in the hospital area, I was requested by the duty officer a strange request, to wait upon senior medical officers who came to stay in the hospital that night. In those days it was a practice among senior officers who came and went between the front and Tokyo on official business to stay in the Military Hospital instead of a hotel, where no meals were served.
I had the dinner arranged in the X-ray room. As all the windows were covered with black curtains, it was not necessary to switch off the light with each air-raid-alarm. Though it was an unpleasant duty, I also got fairly drunk after a long interval. After seeing with my own eyes that the last one was dead drunk, I lay 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, when I began to feel drowsy, I was shaken awake by a guard who guided an old farmer to me. It was an emergency call. His granddaughter had had a fit of heart disease which I had treated when I stayed in Hesaka. If I were sober, I should go at once, but it was difficult for me to do so. He loaded me on the back of his bicycle and I held his belt desperately. My memory of the trip is very vague. I only remembered that I saw the beautiful stream of the Ota River reflecting twinkling stardust while I held on to his belt to prevent falling from the rolling bicycle.
It was ten past eight and too late for the opening time of the hospital. I jumped out of bed. The housemaster who slept beside me had begun his daily work, and from the back yard, the clattering sound of a well-bucket drawing water reached my ears. Drawing near the patient, I observed her. Her attack had abated and deep sleep had fallen upon her. To give her an injection for complete rest, I took out a syringe from my bag and began to cut the neck of an ampule.
The blue sky of August was shining in the cloudless sky. In the sky, at an extraordinary altitude, a B-29 bomber came into view, shining silvery and moving so 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 and was about to put the needle into her arm.
At that moment, a dazzling flash struck my face and penetrated my eyes. Violent heat blew against my face and both my naked 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 hands instinctively and tried to creep out. “Fire,” I expected, but saw nothing but the blue sky between my fingers. The tip of the leaves of trees covering the porch did not move an inch. It was entirely quiet. “Might it be a dream?” I looked again over the city of Hiroshima straining my eyes.
Just then I saw a huge ring of fire floating in the Hiroshima sky, as if a giant ring had covered the city. In a moment, a mass of deep white cloud grew out in the center of the ring. It grew instantly, extending itself from within, swelling into a huge fireball in the center. At the same time, a long black cloud appeared just under the fireball, spreading over the entire width of the city. It spread along the side of the hill and began to surge over the Ota River valley toward Hesaka, enveloping all woods, groves, rice fields, farms and houses. It was an enormous blast storm rolling up the mud and sand of the city. Only a few seconds after the monumental flash and heat-rays I could observe the whole aspect of the tidal wave. No sooner had I seen the roof of the primary school below the farmer's house easily stripped by the cloud of dust than my whole body flew up in the air before I could guard myself. Shutters and screens flew up around me like so many sheets of scrap paper. The heavy straw-thatched roof of the farmer's house was blown off and 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 with my eyes shut and my back bent, thrown against the big Buddhist altar in the innermost part of the house. The huge roof and a large quantity of mud tumbled down with terrible noise on my body. I felt some pain here and there, but there was no time to examine it. I crept outside, groping my way. My eyes, ears, nose and even my mouth were filled with mud. Fortunately, because the big pillars or walls were strong, the young 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 directly put my ear to her breast as my stethoscope had already disappeared. Her heartbeat was normal. With great relief, I looked over the city of Hiroshima again.
A blazing column was shooting up. The scarlet column was extending its head like a huge cloud, climbing higher and higher to the highest sky as if it intended to break through the sky itself. All at once, a chill ran down my spine, and an inexplicable fear crawled up my stomach.
“What is this? What am I looking at now?”
It was a completely unknown world in all my 28 years' experience. The giant cloud had risen to an enormous height, as if to trample the whole of Hiroshima under the blazing column. Unconsciously I knelt on the ground. An ominous wind began to disturb the leaves, and the cries of villagers here and there reached my ears as they called to each other. Everything was obscured with the sand-like dust as in a fog. Over the hazy scene, the bright sky of August shone. The gigantic mushroom-shaped cloud was violently swelling and swelling to the fringe of the sky, changing into a range of five colors, as if to outshine the clear brightness of the sky.
The farmer came back. His face was clearly filled with terror and wonder. He could not understand why his house had been suddenly broken. Because he had been working on the opposite side of the house under the protection of the wall, he was safe from the flash and thermal 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 safe and asked him to lend me his bicycle. I had to return to Hiroshima as soon as possible.
I hurried along the Ota River on the bicycle. The dry white country road led straight to the foot of the mushroom cloud. Not a human figure was there, not even a dog.
“What happened under that fire and that cloud?”
I was filled with awe. On the other hand, I was a medical officer, and my duty was overwhelming. Nothing but this self-conceit drove me to push forward on the bicycle in spite of fear. There was an Ishi-Jizo (a Buddhist stone statue) by the roadside halfway to the city. From there the road led down a good distance straight and then turned acutely to the left, where the foot of the hill jutted into the river. I was running 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 sprang up in spite of pain and held my breath to see a figure standing in the midst of the road. It was anything but a man. The strange figure came up to me little by little tottering on its feet. It surely looked something like a man, but it was wholly naked, bloody and covered with mud. The body was completely swollen. Many pieces of ragged cloth-like skin hung from its bare breast and waist. Its hands were held before its breast with palms turned down. Black water drops dripped from all the bits of his rags. Indeed, it was human skin that I thought was ragged cloth, and the water drops were human blood. I could not tell whether it was male or female, a soldier or a citizen. It had an enormous head and swollen eyelids. The big projected lips grew as if they formed half of the face. There was no hair on its burned head. I stepped back in spite of myself. Surely this strange thing was a human, but it was a mass of burnt flesh hanging like rawhide, covered with blood and mud.
He seemed 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 immediately drew near to him and tried to feel his pulse. However, his skin was totally burnt, and there were no place to touch to feel the beat of an artery. After his body convulsed, I could not find any sign of life. I wanted to find 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! Numberless survivors, denuded, burnt and bloody stood in my way. They were massed together, some crawling on their knees or on all fours, others stood with difficulty or leaned on each other's shoulders. None of them showed the least sign of being human.
I was quite at a loss as to what to do with them because I carried no medicine nor medical instruments with me. It was impossible to push my way through those miserable victims. I thought that the road near the city must be filled with numberless victims. Throwing the bicycle in the bush with no hesitation, I jumped into the Ota River that flowed under the road. I hurried down the river wading through the luxuriant summer overgrowth of grass along the bank. Volumes of dark smoke began to whirl with a hard wind on the surface of the water. The burning wind blew against my face and hot smoke choked my breath. I knew that the furious wind came from the fire in the city.
Soon I noticed that the pebbles 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. It seemed that I came into the Enko River which was the left most of the seven branches on the Ota River. I was caught in a storm of blazing wind from deep red flames. Whenever the burning heat attacked me, I dipped my head into the water holding my breath. The bright sky of high summer could not be seen. The water color turned deep red reflecting the blazing flame, and spray splashed over the river surface by violent: wind struck my cheeks.
As I took a wrong branch, I had to traverse the river at this place to enter the city. The Hesaka Road crossed over the river at Choju-En by a suspension bridge and went into the city, passing by the barracks of an Engineer Corps on the opposite bank. When I began to traverse the stream, suddenly the wind changed its direction. Dark smoke, which obscured my vision, moved rapidly downstream. Unexpectedly, the blue sky appeared with the brightness of high noon. The vast extent of Choju-En's waterside was filled with an enormous number of burned human bodies as far as the eye could see. The great number of those who drifted in the water, rolling slowly at the mercy of the current, must have been corpses. Countless survivors crept up the bank one after another, some crawling over the others. The suspension bridge was in flames with large volumes of black smoke. These countless creatures of flesh moved slowly across the bridge at a snail's pace. I saw some of them fall into the water, their strength gone. The Engineer Corps area on the opposite bank was exploding all over. Dark smoke eddied in the sky over the flames. Sparks colored the dark cloud, accompanied by tremendous sounds, as in a fireworks display. A number of survivors, who were driven by the violent fire in the city but whose way was barred by the river, fell into the water. Far from my intention of entering the city, I could not take even one step forward and would have gone on standing in the river not knowing what to do. A great many survivors with no human faces or speech went past me in the water.
The corpses, some of them coming to the surface, some suspended in the depth, knocked against my body, swirling in their length, floating downstream. Whenever I saw a little innocent child among them, I looked up to the sky biting my lip to control myself from crying. The enormous mushroom-shaped cloud was above me, shining with five colors against the infinite height of the blue sky above the whirling black smoke.
Suddenly, my name was called from behind. Called without my title, I understood he was my superior. But, it took some time before I recognized him as Lieutenant Colonel Suzuki, who had come back from the front recently. He narrowly stood with the support of his sword in place of a stick, and the upper half of his body was nothing but burnt flesh. “Sorry, Hiroshima Military Hospital was totally destroyed. How can I possibly excuse myself for this utter destruction while the Director is away. I.........” Perhaps, it might be something like this that he wanted to say. Being short of breath, he could not speak anymore. I brought him to the shore, where he succumbed, muttering some inarticulate words to himself. I do not remember exactly how long I was standing there. I remember I was afraid that I might go mad. I felt myself rather unusual because I was normal, while all the other people around me were burned, wounded or in all sorts of miserable condition.
At that time, two metal boats full of soldiers of the Engineer Corps rowed down the river under the command of a young officer. I knew him well, because he had been engaged in tunnel work in the village next to Hesaka. When he came near me, he jumped into the water, and holding the boat, said loudly, “Go back to Hesaka at once. It is filled with the wounded. They are waiting for you, doctor.” I understood the state of affairs at once. He shook hands with me and disappeared with his soldiers in the smoke, promising to investigate the fate of the Military Hospital. But they never came back from the fire again.
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 died jumping into the river for water. I did not know what time it was; my watch was useless after it was soaked in water. I toiled up the familiar levee of Hesaka. When I looked at the village from there, I squatted down in spite of myself, partly because I was so tired that I could not keep standing, but mainly because I was astounded to see such an extraordinary sight of the village.
Two main roads met in a T-intersection in the village. I stood at the junction of the one going north along the river and the other from Hiroshima, coming over Nakayama Pass along train tracks of the Geibi Line.
Oh, what a terrible sight! As far as I could see, a great many victims filled the road, school grounds and all the other open places. The primary school which I had used as the base for construction work until the previous 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 covered with debris, but the cruelest sight was that of countless bodies lying one upon another on the bare ground. The roads were already full of them, and bloody victims with burns 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, for they did not move. The peculiar nasty smell of the dead mingled with that of blood and burned flesh.
The tent for medical treatment had been set up temporarily on the corner of the grounds, and Dr. Fujimoto, the Director of the Branch Hospital, who had arrived to his post only the previous day, and the supporting medical party from Asa Branch Hospital were busy in first aid treatment. Wounded sufferers were waiting for their turn in a line.
In a room of the school which had narrowly escaped collapse, the village headman, the school master and other leaders were consulting, but they did not know what to do in this unexpected crisis. As soon as I entered, the village headman stood up and pointed out of the window, mumbling something. I saw villagers with folded arms, standing in lines on the footpaths in the rice fields as if they were sparrows perched on electric wires. They had nowhere to go except to run out of doors in fear, because one after another, bloody victims came into their houses without a word.
I pointed out to the village authorities some emergency measures:
- to ring the bell and gather all villagers immediately;
- to prepare an emergency kitchen and to offer rice from the army;
- to prepare a quantity of seed oil, soy bean oil and rags as much as could be obtained;
- to prepare an emergency crematory.
Someone murmured to the last proposal, “We do not cremate. We only inter.”; I said, “Good. Look around. No less than two, three hundred bodies. Will you dig all your paddy fields?” After this the village headman and his assistant were obliged to offer the village forest to set up a temporary crematory.
All the villagers gathered at 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 men were fighting at the front. Some of the very aged set about to gather the corpses under the command of a sergeant. Temporary stretchers were made with bamboo and straw ropes, and numberless, terrible-looking corpses were carried out on them one after another. They were not human bodies; in fact they were masses of burned flesh. There was no time for tears, nor sentimentality. The primary duty at that time was to save the victims who were still breathing, even if after our efforts they might die. In fact, innumerable survivors continued to take refuge toward Hesaka from the foot of the mushroom cloud.
When rice was boiled up, women made it into rice balls. But none of the victims could eat it because their lips and fingers were mercilessly burnt. So, rice balls were boiled again with water into rice gruel. It was the role of school children to hold a rice bucket and to pour gruel into the mouths of the wounded who lay on the ground. “Don't give it to the dead,” some aged person said to them, but no children dared to come near the corpses, whose faces were too fearful even to adults. The wounded who lay all over the ground and the roads were laid down on straw mats. Many of them died soon, in spite of the villagers' care and were carried out on 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 carrying oil buckets in their hands, applied rags immersed in soy bean oil on the burnt wounds of the victims one by one. Some covered their wounds with wet leaves. This treatment had been neglected as a mere folk remedy, but victims who were treated in this way were all pleased as far as I know.
Four medical officers including me devoted themselves to first-aid treatment. At that time, no medicine or instruments had arrived at the Hesaka Branch Hospital, and the personnel needed had just arrived the day before. We quickly used all the instruments and materials available. These precious items, despite their small quantity, were offered from the goodwill of the doctor's family, the doctor having gone to the front. I stopped bleeding, put stitches in some wounds and pulled out pieces of glass, too.
There was a boy, four or five years old, crying frantically. Somebody brought him in his arms. I found no burn anywhere on his body. However, a big piece of broken glass had stuck into his bare belly and had cut the surface skin. The large intestine protruded through the wound like a hydrangea. I bound its root and burned it with the red hot tongs after making sure that the intestine was not severed. The boy lost consciousness and was brought to a village woman who was fond of children.
An old woman had been caught under a fallen concrete wall. She was caught by the arm and was narrowly saved from fire. She was brought to Hesaka with her arm discolored and hanging by her side only by the skin. There was no other way to save her than to cut off her dead arm. The preparations for amputation was at once made. She was bound firmly on a board. The operation had to be done under local anesthesia. Her arm was separated from her shoulder with skilled knife-work of a surgeon who had improved his skills at the front. She fainted from the fearful pain. Her daughter, who held her mother's arm, dropped it on the ground because of its unexpected weight. The bloody arm rolled down as if it was a living thing and settled at the edge of the road. I was greatly frightened to see its white index finger pointing to the giant cloud blazing in scarlet, reflecting the evening glow in the western sky.
There was a young girl whose upper half of the body was cruelly burned. She had nothing to cover her. She had no wound under her belly, and her clear skin caught people's eyes. Someone who could not tolerate her nakedness had wound a cloth around her waist. The girl was already insane. Every time cloth was put on her, she stripped it off, and tore it to pieces. Grimacing with her burned face in an ugly manner, she walked among the area crowded with the wounded and corpses. Sometimes she stumbled over the dead, and at other times she fell on the wounded. Whenever she moved, her exposed white thighs threatened all others as if some strange living things. Unable to stand by watching, someone strongly hugged her from behind. The girl fell down and began to cry loudly, clinging to a corpse on the ground. The sun had set and the ominous mushroom cloud, rising enormously in the sky, began to change its shape. And treatment continued in the dark of the night without any light.
I intended to extract a large piece of broken plate glass which stuck into a girl's breast. Her face and breast were badly burned. Careful technique and concentration of mind were necessary to pull out the unstable glass which had penetrated deeply pointing its sharp end toward her deeper organs. Near me, a young mother with her baby on her back was tearfully entreating me for some time. She looked fearful with her 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 on her back.
“The baby is the substitute for the other three. Please help my baby, doctor, please,” she repeated incessantly. The baby seemed to be one or two years old. But, he was already only a dead body with a merciless cut at the back of his thigh. The mother had lost her mind, so she could not understand the condition of her baby, however often I explained.
I was about to pull out the glass piece which I caught with the point of the tweezers, concentrating my mind on my fingertips so that I would not break the glass. At that moment, the young mother suddenly clung to me shaking off the arms holding her. The plate broke into pieces, and the remainder got deeper into girl's breast. The people around gasped.
“OK, I will help him. Let's untie and bring the baby.” Saying so, I gripped her arm, cut the ties holding the baby and took him 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.
“That's OK. Never wake him tonight. You must sleep well for your baby to have plenty of milk tomorrow morning.”
The young mother pressed her hands together as in prayer toward me again and again, and holding her dead baby on her bloody breast, went away to no one knew where. The people around burst out crying. I felt human feelings coming to life again for the first time since the day before. My eyes also were ready to overflow with tears. I bit my lips in an effort not to cry. If I had cried at that time, I would have lost my strength to keep standing there anymore. There descended a nightmarish night in which the whole village turned into a field hospital. The mysterious form of the mushroom cloud in the starlit sky was more uncanny and more frightening than in the daytime. The various voices -- mixture of groans, crying, sobbing and shouts -- filled the fields. The merciless wind blew through the branches of trees in the back hill. The stream of the Ota River went on running to the south as usual. We continued with treatment all through the night under candlelight. Finding their way into the village by two roads, the number of the wounded kept on increasing during the night. The stretcher group repeated the trip to the far hill at the end of the village, but the number of victims did not decrease at all, however hard the stretcher-bearers worked.
Sergeant S. came to report, his eyes deep set from fatigue. He said that they had carried off more than three hundred bodies, but still there were innumerable bodies on the road and the grounds. He wanted my approval to leave the bodies until the next day because they were so tired. I nodded my permission, of course. When he was about to leave after a bow, I suddenly heard a loud voice, “Bomber! Enemy!”
Someone immediately blew out the candlelight. The familiar roar of the B-29 bomber reached my ears from the farthest sky. Deep silence fell upon the whole school. Cold fear stole into everyone's heart.
“It may possibly be the flash again.”
The memory of the shocking moment of that morning caught the heart of everybody. Sometimes near, sometimes from afar, its metallic sound came in waves, and the roaring went away little by little as if it had intended to prolong the fear of the people.
“Hang it! We are only innocent women, children and elderly.”
“Why do we have to bear such a bad time?”
Someone cried out in a sorrowful voice in the dark, “Ma Ma!” The shriek of a child pierced the breast. Suddenly, a number of people burst out crying in the night air over the ruins of the primary school.
I left there in silence and walked for a place where I could be alone. Picking out a cigarette from my breast pocket, I struck a match. The yellow ring of the light must have lit tears on my cheek.
A shrill voice came in alarm from the entrance. As I looked through the dark, I perceived several paramedics 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 from 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 will surely be somewhere. He is a doctor.”
The sterilized Kocher clamp was quickly thrust into the wound and I roughly clamped the broken vessel. I bound thread firmly in the tepid flesh of the breast concentrating all my might on the tip of my fingers which were slippery with clammy blood. When the treatment was over, I stood up with great relief having succeeding in stopping the bleeding. The woman was holding her baby gently to her breast at our feet.