Remembrance: A Letter from Yasuo Yamamoto, father of Atom Bomb victim Mazmi Yamamoto

No doubt I should blame the heaviness I feel in my body and the fact that my head has broken out in lumps on radioactivity from the atomic bomb, for I was out of doors on the morning of the air raid; my cap was blown off and a fierce heat thumped against my head.

It was like I was standing on thorns. I took my temperature, which was 38?. My local injuries were hurting me as if there were lots of needles sticking into me. I took to my bed and in my reverie imagined my son, burnt to death by the atomic bomb while attending Hiroshima High School No 1.

On the morning itself, he had been serving with a work squad made up of students from his school, quite near the centre of the explosion.

He arrived home two hours after the blast, the sorriest spectacle to behold, for his entire body was burnt. My own pain is small beer and not to be compared with what he endured. My dearly beloved son was without question a well educated and taught creature, the apple of my eye.

I was forever giving him encouragement, telling him that he was my only son, that he simply had to sit his exams and survive this war. Initially I sent him to the elementary school, up until that year (1945) when he sat the entrance exam.

For 14 years I had pushing for that result, so you can imagine how delighted I was. But alas! it was all just a fleeting figment of my imagination.

On the morning of the raid on Hiroshima I was out riding my bicycle: all of a sudden I could hear the growl of an engine overhead, one quite different from the American B29s that we had by then become used to. Yet the alert ended: so I had no intention of scanning the beautiful, serene summer skies. Besides, we were, by that point, paying less and less heed to the one or two planes flying over each day. Initially we had been nervous, fearful and helpless. Then we got used to it.

One or two seconds later a huge column of fire came down like a huge waterfall within, as it seemed, a few metres of me, in a volley of thunderclaps. I felt that that was the end! To be sure, that noisy enemy plane had dropped its bomb whilst flying over Hiroshima before travelling on to some other target. But could a bomb that close to me spare my life?

Even as I was thinking “This is the end!” my bicycle knocked against me as it flew, whilst my body somersaulted once or twice through the air; the next instant, I had been cast into the pitch blackness behind a shelter. I strained to see and tried to reach out with my hands for my neck, my chest, my arms and legs. Everything seemed to be in order. I regained consciousness and saw that I had instinctively dived under a tarpaulin in shreds close to a concrete wall and that the darkness was down to the smoke and dust swirling around in the atmosphere. Soon the daylight returned. My eyes gazed upon a terrifying, unimaginable scene. Where I was, I had everything needed to protect my life, but, on emerging from my shelter, I could not have been more surprised. I watched as men raced towards me out of the confusion like a human tide, women were screaming, voices were calling out for family members and sobbing and screaming merely added to the terror.

Dragging my half-mangled bicycle behind me, I set off walking.

Some people were calling out: “What can I do for these injured people?” “What’s holding up the ambulance?” There was nothing that anyone could do to help those sprawled on the ground in pools of blood.

Soon a group arrived from the direction of the railway station: They were nearly all barefoot. Some were bleeding from every part of the body, others from a hand, trying to stanch the blood gushing from their injuries: They were all moaning and some, their hair burnt almost to a crisp, slumped, never to rise again. Others … and so it went; they were all ashen-faced and quaking from fear.

I tried to approach one of the wounded to ask: “Where did the bomb come down?” But the answer was the same from them all: “No idea!” as if they could not or would not talk at any length. I had my doubts about none of the wounded knowing where the bomb had fallen: it was odd!

Around the station everything was in flames. Was the bomb to blame for the fire? All of the houses around me were half-demolished, roofs blown off and beams broken. I was in a panic for my wife and my son and scuttled home as quickly as I could through streets blocked by rubble. I had great difficulty getting home to find it like all the rest, half-destroyed with the first floor room just hanging there. My wife rushed up to me, wrapping her arm in some linen. Nervous but smiling, she shouted out in delight: “Where were you?” So I took it for granted that she was not too seriously hurt.

Stepping inside the house, I found it just a mess of splintered furniture, wood, plaster and glass. “Where’s Mazmi?” I was suddenly assailed with worry about my son for after the all-clear sounded that morning he had rushed out, ready for his stint demolishing areas that were too crowded. “Should I go meet him?”

Are you sure there was no danger near him?” my wife asked me, fretting. “No!” I answered her, for my assumption was that only the eastern side of town had been damaged. I was still worried, though, and decided to wait there, not knowing what route my son might be taking.

It was then that I heard a voice call out: “Oh, you poor thing, Where is home?” “I am Yamamoto”. It was definitely my son’s voice. “Oh, young Master Yamamoto! Oh, goodness me!” She was dumbfounded: I rushed outside. It was Mazmi all right but what a sorry picture he presented! His entire body had been flayed of skin, and he was standing raw red, bloodied and naked. All his hair had been burnt, as had his face. I simply could not make out the features of my son’s face. But for my intuition, I would definitely have denied he was my son. A neighbour woman well acquainted with him asked: “And who might you be?” “Is that you, Mazmi?” I asked. “You’re a sorry sight but I’m glad you’re back with us”, I told him, disguising my dismay. He appeared very sensitive and replied: “Yes, Father”. I called out to my wife who came running, screaming: “Oh, disaster! What are we to do? This is frightful.” She was brooding and almost going out of her mind.

First things first. We put him to bed and had to cut away his underpants which were in shreds. Just as we were helping him to remove his shoes and scorched gaiters, he said to us: “I’m not going to die.” “No, this won’t be the death of you!” I snapped, trying to believe my own words. What sort of a bomb was that? An ordinary bomb? I asked my atrociously injured son, for even then I could not guess. It wasn’t a bomb, Father”. “Was it an incendiary then?” “Not one of those either, but something quite different!”, he replied.

Must have been some sort of high impact weapon. My brain swirled with curiosity and doubts.

Having summoned a neighbour, my wife and I readied a door panel by way of a stretcher before hoisting my son and his bed on to it and bearing them on our shoulders as far as the ambulance, situated in a clearing a kilometre away. En route the warning siren started to scream to warn of approaching aircraft, but, not especially bothered, we reached the first aid post. There was a tight crowd of seriously injured there already, waiting in a long line for their turn and for the army medic to arrive. He tended my son, smearing him with oil. Of his left arm which was gaping open, he said: “This injury will soon sort itself out naturally” and then he was off to tend to the other injured. So we brought my son home, fetching some drinking water en route and I fed it to him from my bottle.

When we were going to bed in what was left of our home, Mazmi then said: “I can’t carry on, my dear parents.” He seemed to calm down after that and gave us a calm account of everything that he had been through at the moment of tragedy. Like everyone else, he had been stricken with strange fears.

How did you make it home in your condition?” I asked him. “I wanted to set your minds at ease, dear parents, and I just ran like hell”.

During the night he calmed right down but was forever calling for a drink of water. I knew that, given his condition, giving him too much water was not a good thing, but, one way or another, my wife fed it to him as he asked for it. In his delirium he was not saying much and to be honest, at that point, I was still hopeful.

There were voices talking outside as they watched the inferno raging beyond the park since morning, but I could not bring myself to look at it.

My wife was continually whimpering and I reassured her by saying: “Don’t fuss. He’ll get better” and I lay down beside my son, but of course could not sleep. At around eleven o’clock that night, his breathing becoming shallow, my son asked me: “Father, can there really be such a place as Utopia?” The unexpected question threw me, as it did my wife, and our minds were troubled, but she was the first to respond: “Yes, of course, where there is never any war, there is a peaceful, tranquil place where people are always in fine health”. And so on, telling everything she knew about the subject. My son heard it all with delight, but then he asked: “And is there jam there too?” This naïve question threw us even more. Of course; there are the sweetest jams and everything else you love”, my wife answered patiently, fighting back the tears. “Really? Then I can die.” I could not hold back from whimpering then and my wife fell as silent as a stone.

More and more delirious, our beloved Mazmi then mumbled: “I’m a student at High School No 1”, as if he imagined that that was where he was, enjoying school life despite those times of military enslavement and was full of hopes for the future.

But I was reluctant to answer my wife’s question, “Is he going to live?” so I just said “Yes, yes, of course he is!”

I was still hoping against all hope, still hoping that he might survive. But my hopes were disapppointed. In the middle of the night, Mazmi said his goodbyes to this world and died in the arms of the parents he loved.

Yasuo Yamamoto

The text was translated from Japanese into Esperanto by T. Yamaga and from Esperanto into French by Paul Champs.

From: Le Libertaire (Paris) 07.10.1949. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.