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Survivors Tell Japan's Tale Of Devastation


Atomic Bomb Anniversary Evokes Painful Memories

By Maha Al-Azar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 10, 2003; Page C08

 

Masakazu Saito says he still suffers from physical pain -- 58 years after the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, where he was stationed as a soldier. But he feels lucky, because unlike 200 friends, relatives and acquaintances who died of cancer, he has shown no symptoms of the illness.

 

Saito, 80, is one of four Hiroshima survivors who came to the United States to raise awareness of the horrors of nuclear weapons, marking the dates in 1945 when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and on Nagasaki on Aug. 9.

 

At least 200,000 people died; Saito is one of an estimated 280,000 Japanese Hibakusha, or survivors.

During a potluck dinner held Friday at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church on 16th Street NW, Saito showed an audience of about 30 personal drawings describing his story in 1945.

 

The hand-drawn pictures were bright and colorful, but the subject was suffering.

 

Saito said that he was 1.12 miles away from the bomb's point of impact. He was 21.

 

The almost 60 years have not dimmed his memories: intense heat and pressure, falling buildings, skin and stone burning, melting. Saito showed drawings depicting his body covered with burns. He was pinned beneath the two-story barracks where he was stationed, he said, five ribs on the right side of his body broken.

 

Unconscious and covered in blood, he was taken to a crematorium. "On the verge of being cremated, I somehow uttered a few words and was saved," he said in a translated written statement distributed to reporters.

"I still have pieces of glass embedded in my body. . . . When the weather changes, the symptoms get worse; I experience nausea, headaches and fatigue," Saito told the audience through an interpreter.

 

Saito is one of the founders of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations, established in 1956 and known as Nihon Hidankyo. He was here at the invitation of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Committee of the National Capital Area, initiated in the early 1980s under the guidance of the Gray Panthers. And the dinner was a culmination of four days of activities that began Tuesday. Two of the four touring survivors, Ryuma Miyanaga, 73, and Eiji Nakanishi, 61, spent the past week giving talks in New Jersey. The four are scheduled to return to Japan on Tuesday.

 

The survivor who accompanied Saito, Koji Ueda, 61, said he was 31/2 when the Enola Gay dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. His family lived 6.2 miles from impact. He has no memory of what happened, but he has heard many stories.

 

"My mother has talked about what she saw that day, saying it was impossible to believe that those scenes . . . were from this world," Ueda said in a written statement. "People with severe burns, faces melted beyond recognition, skin dripping twenty centimeters off their fingertips."

 

"In the heat of the summer, victims' wounds began to crawl with maggots after only a day. They cried out in pain, but all my mother could do was try to remove the maggots with chopsticks and offer encouragement.

"As more and more died, their bodies were piled up on the riverbank and burned with gasoline. Mixed among the dead were those that were still barely alive. When the pile was ignited you could hear those that were still alive let out one final ghastly scream."

 

Shalom Black, who teaches English literature at Catholic University, said that though World War II is a common theme in literature classes, stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not included and not available in small public libraries.

"Literature about the Jewish Holocaust was required reading when I was in school. I was moved and shocked by stories from the concentration camps," she said. "In school I was never assigned a book or story on the Japanese victims."

She argued that overlooking lives lost to nuclear weapons has led to a pop culture with nonchalant references to the bomb.

 

Scott Gordon read Hidankyo's message, which called for the United States to apologize and commit to eliminating nuclear weapons from its arsenal. "Nuclear weapons cause a large number of victims through the entire process of their production -- from uranium mining, to development, manufacturing, testing and use.

"No words can adequately describe the horror of these weapons that tortured and killed tens of thousands of people by throwing them into infernos in an instant," he said. "That is why we say nuclear weapons are the weapons of the devil."

 

2003 The Washington Post Company