Endless, Mute Parade of the Injured

Tatsuko Mori

On August 6, 1945, my husband left home for work at 7:30 in the morning, as usual. Shortly after his departure, my father-in-law and I left for Hesaka village to look for food, especially fresh vegetables. We left my mother-in-law at home; but on my back I carried my eldest son, who was two years old at the time. Our house was in Ushita, a wooded residential district north of Hiroshima Station. We set out along the riverside road and walked north, past the barracks of the engineering battalion. Some of the men were already engaged in pontoon-building exercises and practice in digging for land mines. At the back gate of the barracks settlement, a throng of people had assembled to see off relatives recently called into military service.

As we turned into the road along the Hiroshima reservoir, I pointed to a cluster of planes in the distance. My father-in-law and I agreed that they were B-29s. But why were they there? The all-clear had sounded before we left home.

Suddenly, we were enveloped in what seemed to be a huge magnesium flare. Then we were overcome with a dull heat wave. Instinctively I took cover in a narrow space between two buildings. My child was still on my back, and my father-in-law fell on top of us. Several other people crowded into the same space.

Immediately following the flash there was a tremendous explosion. A mighty air wave seemed to lift me upward. In the next moment, I was being crushed against the ground by ponderous pressure. The force of the explosion raised a cloud of swirling black dust mixed with wood fragments and slivers of broken glass. All of us were injured or cut.

Following the first shock, the others in our small space scattered in all directions. The neighborhood in which we had been walking only minutes ago was chaos. Thick dust obscured my view at first, but it gradually settled, revealing fires shooting skyward all over the city. The Ushita district was demolished. The streets were a clutter of fallen telephone poles and tangled wires. Fires, living demons lashed to fury by the gusts of winds from the blast, spread with terrifying rapidity and belched billows of black smoke. We were nearly out of our wits with fear.

Groups of refugees fled hither and thither in confusion. But my father-in-law and I headed directly for my parents' temporary home in Hesaka. My son's legs and hands had been burned and were swelling. Before going to my parents, we stopped at the office of the village doctor. But he had been called to the local elementary school, which had been designated as an evacuation center.

The school courtyard was already crowded with wounded victims of the bombing. Still others continued to stream in. How could these battered people have made it this far in their frightful condition? They were all cut, burned, and bleeding. Peeled skin revealed raw flesh. Hair was burned and frizzled. Vacant eyes stared from scorched, blackened faces. The people were in too much pain to be hungry, but they all craved water. They got none, however, because it was believed that even a mouthful would kill people in such a condition as theirs. The sights I was witnessing intensified my hatred of war. Many of the people who had fled to the school for help were beyond first-aid measures. They died one after the other.

No one knew how to treat the unusual injuries of the wounded because we were all shocked and stunned, and ignorant of the nature of this sudden and inexplicable catastrophe. After a while I left for my parents' house without obtaining medical attention for my son. The wait would have been too long, and I was at the point of nausea and fainting from the nightmare I had witnessed.

At my parents' house, both my father-in-law and I were desperate with worry over my mother-in-law, left at home. We had to do something to try to help her. We decided that it might be faster and safer to go back to Ushita through the mountains. I wrapped my son's head in a cloth, strapped him to my back, and joined my father-in-law on the road. Neighbors gave us directions.

We climbed the mountain but, on reaching the top, encountered groups of half-naked, wounded refugees fleeing from the Ushita district, which, they said, was engulfed in flames as far as the foot of the mountain. Frightened and worried, we made up our minds to go back to my parents; but in our distress, we lost our way and wandered into a dense chestnut forest that we had not passed on the way up.

Sharp-edged grasses cut our feet and legs as we plunged through underbrush. In places, the land fell away so sharply that we had to tie my father-in-law's belt around tree trunks and lower ourselves by means of it. The heat of midsummer fatigued us and made us thirsty. Part of the way down the slope, we came on a track leading to a cottage. We approached and asked the owner for water. He drew some from the well, but it was too muddy to drink. The water from that well was usually clear, he told us. He kindly showed us the way we should follow and finally we found my parents' house, where we enjoyed long drinks of delicious, cold well water.

Still, we could not resign ourselves to abandoning my mother-in-law in the sea of flames of Ushita. This time we decided to try to reach our house by way of the river road. We went out and started on our way, only to find the road packed with refugees with horse-drawn carts, handcarts, tricycles, bicycles, and any vehicle that promised hope of escape, as well as a great throng of pedestrians. The apparently endless stream pushed steadily in the direction opposite to the one in which we wanted to travel. It was hopeless: we could not battle such a flood.

All of them were burned or injured. Stricken with anxiety and fear, they walked on helplessly, aimlessly pushed by the great surge behind them. Some exhausted people fell by the wayside but no one thought of coming to their aid. Those with the remaining strength plodded on, mute and thoughtless. The wind carried their pungent, infernal stench up the river.

Defeated again, with a prayer that my mother-in-law was safe, we returned to my parents' house. Shortly after our arrival, we were overjoyed to see my elder brother and my mother-in-law. Though he was seriously wounded in the forehead and in both hands, she was completely unharmed. She had been in the kitchen when the bomb exploded. The roof had collapsed, pinning her under it. But she had managed to extricate herself and had waited for some member of the family to find her.

We resolved to spend the night with my parents. We were all present except my husband. Naturally, I was frantic with worry about him and prayed for his safety.

Before going to bed, I went to the bathroom and saw my face in a mirror for the first time that day; it was burned a dark tan and ached as if it had been pricked deeply with something sharp. I took off my blouse. It had been white when I put it on that morning. It was gray. I dipped it in water to wash it. The blouse disintegrated as if it were made of tissue paper.

The terrifying events of the day kept me awake through the interminable night. Early the next morning, I got out of bed and went outside. In the predawn light, I saw wounded refugees lying on the ground. They had come as far as their strength would take them and had collapsed. Looking at them, I seemed to hear echoes of the distant groans of the dying in the city. The forms of the trees in the garden were beginning to detach themselves from the gloom of night. They sparkled with fresh, morning dew. But the horrors were about to begin again.

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