On the First Rescue Train

Mankichi Matsuyama

IN THE LAST months of the war, when things were going badly for Japan and when American bombers constantly filled the skies, all Japanese people were training and preparing themselves for the ultimate battle that was expected to take place on the home islands. At the time, I was assistant chief of the Nagasaki conductors' station of the Japanese National Railways. We were very busy transporting war supplies. My family and I had evacuated to a house in the suburbs of the city, where we felt safer.

Iwas on duty until nine in the morning on August 9, 1945. After handing over the job to the shift that followed us, I headed home on the ten-forty train from Nagasaki Station.

On the way to Nagayo Station, after Michino Station, we saw a terrible flash. Then a tremendous blast almost threw me from my seat. The train ground to a halt. Passengers had been blown about inside the coach. Many were wounded and bleeding from the glass that flew everywhere when all the windows were blown out. I immediately offered to help the crew, and we drove the train to Nagayo. At the station, we ordered all the passengers to detrain. With the assistance of the station staff, we gave medical aid to the wounded and learned that the entire city of Nagasaki was in flames because of an air raid. Countless people had been killed or injured.

The railway authorities hastily decided to make an all-out effort to save as many people as possible. A train then standing in the station was converted into the first emergency-rescue train for Nagasaki.'

But we had heard such horrible stories of conditions in the city that we resolved first to send a motor car along the line to find out whether the way was clear. I drove the car; with me were five people from the control and rail-maintenance departments. As we approached Michino Station, we saw huge clouds of black smoke swirling upward from the direction of Nagasaki. Our hearts sank as we watched the smoke, increasing by the minute and clearly indicating what must be happening in the city.

The windows of the station building at Michino had all been smashed. The walls were largely destroyed. The staff was trying to clear up as much of the debris as they could, while wiping away the blood streaming from wounds on their faces and bodies.

We did not remain long in Michino but continued our reconnaissance. The minute we turned the curve just out of Michino, we were confronted with a thick curtain of black smoke from which shot columns of flame. Not a building remained standing. In the direction of Ohashi, nothing was visible except the blanket of smoke. The bomb that had fallen on Nagasaki could not be a conventional one. We moved very slowly, since visibility grew worse and since the rail-maintenance men had to remove electrical cables that had fallen and were hanging across the tracks.

Long files of victims walked by us on the sides of the tracks. Burned, half-naked, shocked, they moved along in spite of everything, supported only by the strength of the human will to survive. Some were so charred that their sexes were difficult to determine. We called to them that a rescue train would come soon, but they showed almost no reaction.

We continued toward Ohashi Bridge, but when we moved to a point about halfway between Nishimachi and Ohashi, we sensed danger. Gas was leaking from a huge tank in the vicinity. Getting down from the car, I walked toward the site of the bridge. There was nothing there except massive, grotesquely twisted steel supports projecting from the water. The bridge itself was gone. The railway ties were on fire. We headed back to Nagayo because we could go no farther in this direction.

At Michino, we met the rescue train and started relief work. The locomotive pushed the coaches from behind while the conductor blew the train whistle as a signal. Victims grew more numerous closer to the city, and the coaches quickly filled. The injured did not want to sit on the benches. If there had been room, they would have preferred to lie on the hard, wooden floor.

Near Ohashi, a young man ran toward us shouting, "My wife's trapped under a pile of burning lumber. Please help her!' Although we gave no thought to ourselves, we had so many refugees and so many more were coming every minute that it was impossible to stop to do anything for the young man or his wife. From the flames, the shelters, the swirling smoke, we heard people crying for water and for assistance. If this was not hell, what was it?

The wounded that we transported were taken to the naval hospital at Isahaya, but I learned that almost all of them died soon. After August 12, we transported fewer wounded and more unrecognizable, burned corpses.

On the night of August 9, American bombers dropped leaflets appealing to us to surrender. Reading a leaflet, I learned for the first time that an atomic bomb of dreadful destructive power had been dropped on Nagasaki. The leaflet claimed that all living creatures in the bombed area would perish and that nothing would grow there for seventy years. The tension that had supported me in the trying days of the war and that had preserved in me hope of a turn for the better vanished. I shuddered, and a passionate longing for a termination to the war flooded my whole body. Six days after the bombing of Nagasaki, I heard the emperor's radio broadcast announcing the unconditional surrender of Japan. I was still engaged in rescue operations at the time.

A single atomic bomb killed 74,000 people, injured 75,000 more, and destroyed 18,000 buildings. Nor is this the end of the list of casualties. Tens of thousands of people who received no external injury soon fell victims to radiation sickness. Many of them died very soon. Three decades after the bombing, countless victims still suffer the aftereffects of radiation exposure, and some of them die every year.

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