Man who saw two A- bombs.
At 93, Yamaguchi's battle with cancer, probably caused by exposure to radiation 64 years ago, has become a way of life. Recuperating in a Japanese hospital where he was admitted on August 8, he says in an e- mail interview he spends every anniversary of the two " fateful days" in prayer. " This has been like the 128th anniversary in these 64 years," he says.
Back in March, Yamaguchi became the first person to be officially recognised as a nijuu hibakusha -- a dual A- bomb survivor. The recognition comes towards the end of a life of bitterness, a constant effort to water down the blow dealt by fate, and a late reconciliation with the role he could play in ending war and nuclear proliferation.
It is not often that someone is exposed to the only two atom bombs ever used in the world, and survives.
By the end of 1945, over 200,000 people succumbed to the effects of radiation caused by the attacks.
In August that year, Yamaguchi was a 29- year- old shipbuilding engineer with Mitsubishi and he on a three- month assignment in Hiroshima.
He and two colleagues were scheduled to return to their hometown, Nagasaki, on August 7. Destiny had other plans.
Yamaguchi was on his way to the shipyard a little after 8 am on August 6 when he heard the familiar drone of a B- 29 bomber. In wartime Japan, this was a noise one grew used to.
But what happened next was unprecedented.
" The ground was filled with a white light that sparked midair and I saw a ballooning giant fireball," he writes in his autobiography, which was published in 2007. " I saw a pillar of cloud growing high above the sky in the shape of a mushroom." At least 90,000 people were killed that day in Hiroshima. Yamaguchi partially lost his hearing and suffered burns. But what affected him most was what he saw around him.
" The river that till yesterday had reflected peace was now filled with bodies clumped together. C* The river kept flowing yesterday and today. But a single bomb forever divided them into completely unrelated days," he writes. After spending a fitful night in Hiroshima, he returned to Nagasaki on August 8, almost as if to keep his date with fate. His family and friends were initially scared of the bandaged man who appeared before them.
A day later, Yamaguchi was at work, trying to convince his disbelieving manager that one bomb had superior accused him of having lost his sanity, American bombers dropped another atom bomb, just 3 km away. " The same mushroom cloud I saw in Hiroshima was growing tall as if to sneer at me," he says.
Five feet in diameter, 11 feet in length and over 4,500 kg in weight, the bomb called Fat Man killed nearly 70,000 people in Nagasaki.
Even after all these years, the images of destruction and distress haunt Yamaguchi. " I remember the pain. I saw people evaporate like mist, people burnt to charcoal on the streets, corpses that were barely recognisable," he says. At times, he still feels bitter towards the Americans.
" I can't forgive them because this hell was the result of a wellplanned attack," he rues. D ESPITE the anger, Yamaguchi did not participate in anti- war activities. Nor did he try to get official recognition of his status as a dual A- bomb survivor. He moved on, taking up a job as an English interpreter with the US Navy and later as an English teacher in a Japanese school.
But his family's constant struggle with illnesses caused by the exposure to radiation prompted Yamaguchi to come out of his carefully crafted shell. When his son succumbed to cancer in 2005, he felt desperate to voice his anguish and tell the world what millions of Abomb victims had gone through.
Yamaguchi finally penned an autobiography when he was in his eighties.
He was also featured in a 2006 documentary, Nijuu Hibaku ( Twice Bombed, Twice Survived).
For Yamaguchi, his recognition as a nijuu hibakusha on March 24 this year is a hope for the future.
Asked what he would most like to change about life, Yamaguchi's answer is moving in its simplicity: " Everything about war." Then he makes his final plea: " Life or death, there are only two choices for human beings. I wish young people choose life as their purpose."
Copyright 2009 India Today Group. All Rights Reserved.
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|Publication:||Mail Today (New Delhi, India)|
|Date:||Aug 23, 2009|
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