April 5, 2002 (Ira Pilgrim)
I read an edited version of the following article in the March 21, 2002 issue of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. I was so moved by it that I called the author and he gave me permission to reprint it here and on my web site.
During the years that I worked for the CBS television affiliate in Honolulu I went to Hiroshima to interview the sick and dying exactly 20 years after the atomic bomb was exploded over that city August 6, 1945. I arrived in Hiroshima August 6, 1965.
I first visited the Peace Memorial Park. It is located within the square mile that literally vaporized with the explosion of one atomic bomb. Join me in a visit to the Atomic Bomb Hospital. The hospital is "home" for dozens of "living dead," who had been there for 20 years, ever since the bomb that killed 200,000. Through an interpreter I was able to communicate with numerous patients. Most of them were so hideously disfigured they were outcasts in their own communities. Word spread that for the first time an American civilian was visiting them. For the lonely and forgotten, tears ran; arms of welcome were outstretched to me, an American. I was encouraged to ask questions.
I began the visit in the women's ward. The first lady I interviewed had no hair. Her eyes were bandaged. She had no nose. She, like the others, was terminally ill with radiation poisoning. (In addition to open wounds and sores that never healed, they suffered from cancers that were caused by the nuclear weapon. Many had leukemia and multiple myeloma. Others had malignant tumors characterized by an infiltration of bone and marrow, accompanied by anemia and kidney lesions; illnesses which were usually fatal by themselves.) I sat on her bed and held her hand. I asked if she would care to talk about the day the bomb was dropped. She nodded, "Yes."
"I was 13. I was in our school yard chatting with schoolmates, waiting for the bell to ring for school to begin. I saw a blue-red flash. It was like another sun. Minutes later, thousands of people were screaming in agony. Many were naked from the concussion, their bodies black. Blood was coming from all their body openings. For many, the flesh had been stripped, and hung so that one could see the bones. For some, it was like someone cut you with a razor at least a quarter-inch deep from shoulder to shoulder, then pulled the meat all the way down to your hips. Then burned you with a blow torch. I didn't know then how badly I was injured. A school friend raised her hand for me to help her. I reached for her hand. The skin came off like a glove, to the elbow. I vomited. Thousands of people were screaming and crawling to the river, desperate for water. As they drank, they died in horrible pain, filling the river like pieces of driftwood."
I listened to several such stories in the women's ward. When it was too much of a challenge to keep back the tears, I asked to go to the men's ward. One of the men was without legs. He had open sores on his face and body. With tears in his eyes he said, "Don't let it happen again. I saw mothers dead, black on the ground, skin stripped from their bodies. Some had sheltered their babies with their bodies to protect them from the blast. One baby was still alive, and was trying to nurse from its mother, but the breasts were destroyed. Some people died standing upright. Their eyes liquefied from looking at the blast. It was horrible." He began sobbing and squeezed my hand. One patient said that "All communications were out. Total hysteria, screams of agony and panic prevailed. Tokyo couldn't be contacted, or there surely would have been an immediate unconditional surrender. Hospitals were destroyed. The only medication for most of the victims was mercurochrome. Three days later, around 11:00 a.m., a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, with similar results."
I said, "We dropped millions of pamphlets warning civilians to evacuate the cities." He looked into my eyes. "No paper was ever dropped. No warning was ever given." I held the hand of a dying patient. All I could say was "I'm so sorry. We just wanted to end the war." He said, "Our hatred is against the bomb, not the Americans. You are brave to look at us. Please spread the word that it must never happen again. There is no more agonizing way to die."
For the first time in my life I felt that euthanasia would have been a blessing to many of those tortured souls whose suffering never ceased for 20 years.
Today, one "Nuke" is 4,000 times more destructive than those first atomic bombs. Perhaps you recall during the Gulf War that people wrote letters to the editors of newspapers, and called radio and television talk shows, suggesting that we "nuke" Iraq. Sadly, the same response was heard after the tragedy of 11 September, when terrorists planes crashed into New York's World Trade Center, and the Pentagon. If our people had any idea of the medical dimensions of what nuclear weapons render, I'm certain that they would never suggest such a horrible death. We must prevent such weapons of war. It could happen to us.
Mr. Ford is a retired journalist. He lives in Sonoma, CA
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