August 6th marked the 72nd anniversary of when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Wednesday is the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. Altogether, nearly 200,000 people died in the attacks.
Every year on August 6th, people gather at the Memorial Peace Park in Hiroshima, Japan, to mark the anniversary. Together, they pray silently for one minute.
More than a hundred forty thousand civilians died in Hiroshima after the U.S. dropped two bombs on two separate Japanese cities during World War II.
Those who survived live with the trauma of the event. Jack Dairiki, a Japanese American survivor, was 14 years old when it happened. He worked at an aircraft factory that was three miles away from ground zero.
“We saw three aircrafts coming to Hiroshima. They started to veer away from us, and that’s when the explosion happened, 8:15 a.m.,” Dairiki said.
May Yamaoka is another survivor who was born in Lodi, California, and moved to Japan with her family as a child. She was 16 years old, working at a tobacco factory that day. “All of sudden, there was a flash,” she said.
Dairiki also remembers the moment when the bomb was dropped.
“Instinctively I fell on the ground, covered my eyes with four fingers, my thumbs in my ears, as we were trained to do when the bomb falls. The blast followed, my body was about 100 pound weight and it was floating in the air at that time.”
Dairiki made his way to a bomb shelter. When he looked out at the city, he saw a huge mushroom cloud. Later, he and a friend went outside to check what was happening. A woman with burnt clothes walked by.
“She was walking like a ghost, arms extended out. And rag hanging out from her arm. And turned out it was not the rag but her skin that was hanging.”
The city was filled with ashes, dead bodies, and people trying to survive. The radiation, which blew up countless lives in a moment, made people excessively thirsty.
“Most people who have burns want water, they say give it to them because they were dying. But if you give them water, they die. But you try to make them happy with the water,” said Yamaoka, who lost Mana, her younger sister, that day.
At home, Yamaoka tends a Buddhist altar for her sister. She places a cup filled with water there every day, as a way to remember her sister and the way she died.
Those who lived through the bombing of Hiroshima suffered from radiation exposure. Dairiki said his aunt’s hands are still paralyzed, and her fingers never stretched out. For her, the long-term effects of radiation poisoning were so painful that she tried to commit suicide more than once.
Dairiki also thinks that the radiation exposure could be the reason for his infertility. “It’s a big question. Is it because of the atomic bomb that I don’t have children? You’ll never know.”
16 hours after the atomic bomb was dropped, then-President Harry Truman announced to the world that the Americans had used a nuclear bomb.
“An American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb has more power than twenty thousand tons of TNT,” he said.
Years later, U.S. Army General Leslie Groves said President Truman never fully read the reports about the bomb plan. Groves oversaw the international military and scientific effort to develop nuclear weapons, called the Manhattan Project.
“Mr. Truman knew nothing about this project until he became President,” Groves said in an interview with Bulgarian journalist Stephane Groueff in 1965.
“This report was not long, considering the size of the project. It was about 24 pages. And he would constantly interrupt his reading to say, ‘Well, I don’t like to read papers.’”
Yamaoka and Dairiki later returned to California, where they were born. They both feel a responsibility to talk about their experiences of surviving the nuclear bomb and crossing the Pacific before and after the War — as they lived in both cultures and still battle the effects of the bomb on their lives and families.
“I want to keep reminding people what happened . . . it’s really important to keep history alive,” said Dairiki.
He says if we forget what the bomb did to the people of Hiroshima, someone else could use a nuclear weapon again in the future.