My Daughters

Yasu Takeuchi

"It was you who killed our daughters! You killed them, because you didn’t see they were safely evacuated!" These were the first words my husband hurled at me when he returned from the South Pacific after the end of World War II. I had struggled on in the hope that when he came back he would take me by the hand, pity me for the horrible experience I had gone through, and offer to share my sorrow and tears. But no matter how much I explained, he refused to understand what it had been like in Hiroshima the day the atomic bomb fell, the day we lost two of our daughters.

"You killed our daughters!" With his eyes red and swollen from crying, he tormented me for a very long time. Thinking back on it now, I realize that he was taking his suffering out on me because he had no other way to relieve his feelings. But at the time, each of his words was like a dagger in my breast, making my grief worse than it had been.

A long while after the end of the war, having heard about the bombing from many other people, my husband at last stopped berating me. He has been dead now for many years, and I no longer have anyone to whom I must explain. I really don't want to remember or to talk about what happened then. But we survivors have a duty to speak of it, so that the same kind of tragedy will never be repeated.

In the summer of 1945 I was living in Mizushi-machi in Hiroshima with my four daughters and my younger sister and her husband. Because of the military policy that kept students and working girls in the city, the three older girls could not be evacuated, but our fourth and youngest child had been sent to safety in the country. My husband was in the military in the South Pacific, and we prayed every day for his safe return.

On August 6, 1945, my oldest daughter, Kuniko, had gone to work at a savings bureau. Mineko, our third daughter, had left to work on what was called domestic evacuation. Our second daughter had a day off and was at home with me.

Some time after seeing Kuniko and Mineko off there was a blinding flash and then a tremendous blast that flattened our house, burying my daughter and me under it. It was instantaneous, and I had no idea what had happened.
My sister and her husband pulled my daughter and me from under the wreckage. We were covered with red dirt. When we had had a few minutes to collect ourselves, I washed my face and saw I had a large, freely bleeding wound on my head. There were burns all over my body.

But my little girl was in a much more pitiable condition. She had been sitting on the floor with her back to a large three-leaf mirror. When the blast hit, the mirror had been broken into tiny pieces, many of which had buried themselves in her back.

My daughter and I were taken to the Sumiyoshi Shinto Shrine, where we found many other wounded people, some of whom were barely alive. Soon I was told to go to Sumiyoshi Bridge and catch a boat taking people to a nearby island for treatment. At this point, I was separated from my daughter. A soldier had picked her up and taken her off someplace where the seriously wounded were treated. For many days I had no idea where she was, or even whether she was still alive.

When the boat arrived at Sumiyoshi Bridge, people rushed to get aboard. I waited for the next boat, and then for the next, until finally I found myself alone on the dock. Having gone three days without food or water, I fainted, falling to the ground like one of the dead. When I came to, I was assailed by worry and grief over the whereabouts of my daughters and sister. I wanted to go in search of them, but my body refused to move. I could do nothing but lie there, a hatred of the blinding flash welling up within me.

In a few days a nephew from Yoshijima found me, after having looked almost everywhere. Had he not found me when he did, I might have died. That night I was able to sleep in a bomb shelter, and the next day he took me to Yoshijima. The family house had been destroyed in the blast, but they had built a shack of boards and logs to keep out the rain.

The next day I went in search of my daughters. Sharp pains were shooting through my head, and I tried to keep it cool with a wet towel. I walked as fast as I could, but my legs, covered with burns and bruises, were not up to the task. Still I had no choice but to walk. There were no vehicles of any kind.

Only people who were there can know what Hiroshima was like. Burnt-out ruins stretched as far as the eye could see. Everywhere in this hellish scene lay wounded people and corpses. But no matter how hard I searched, I was unable to discover where my children were. Nonetheless, I was determined to find them, regardless of what might happen to me.

After I am not sure how many days, my second daughter came back. After we had been separated at Sumiyoshi Bridge, she had been taken by the soldier to a hospital to be treated for her wounds. Then another soldier had taken her to an uncle's house in Itsukaichi. Though I was still worried about Kuniko and Mineko, it was a relief to have found at least one of my children.

But my relief soon turned to inexpressible grief and despair at news of Kuniko's death. She had been at work when the bomb hit, and as one of the seriously wounded had been taken to a hospital. She was naked, her face so badly burned and swollen that it was impossible to recognize her. Her uncle Shimizu from Itsukaichi was also at the hospital, helping the wounded as a member of the fire brigade. Hearing a faint voice call out, "Uncle Shimizu," he turned to find Kuniko lying on the hospital floor with so many other wounded people that it was difficult to walk without stepping on someone. Her clothing had been blown off in the blast, but around her waist was a wrapping cloth bearing the name Shimizu. This was how he recognized her. She died that very night.

Kuniko was nineteen when she died. Maybe it's wrong to praise one’s own child, but Kuniko was a fine, intelligent girl, especially good at mental arithmetic. I only wish I could have been with her at the end.

Although I had been unable to locate Mineko in all my searchings, I soon received news from her school. She had been at morning assembly when the bomb fell. Although Mineko and all the other children were injured, they managed to find shelter nearby in Hijiyama Park. Later the seriously wounded--including my Mineko--were taken by truck to a national elementary school at Fuchii. Unable to stand, Mineko was lying in the truck. Someone inadvertently stepped on her arm, and the burned skin popped open like a pomegranate. This hideous torture was inflicted on her several times during the ride. Each time she screamed in pain for her mother. She was only thirteen.

My throat parched and legs dragging, I hurried toward Fuchii. My one thought was a prayer that Mineko would still be alive. When I arrived at the school, I found my poor child lying on the hard sandy floor of the lecture hall. Her face was so swollen that her eyes and nose were no longer recognizable. But I knew her voice when she called out to me. Her fingers had swollen so badly that it looked as if she were wearing a baseball glove. "My fingers are sticking together," she sobbed. I gently wrapped each finger in gauze.

Mineko had been clever with her hands and often made dolls out of leftover cloth. Looking at her fingers that day, she sadly said, "Mother, I won't be able to make dolls any more." I felt so sorry for her that I would gladly have changed places if only I could.

Burns covered her whole body, bleeding and festering. The doctor would hurriedly strip away the bandages, causing the blood and pus to pour forth, exposing the raw flesh. Each time she sobbed in pain. I couldn’t help being angry at the doctor for inflicting such pain. To make things as easy as I could for her, before the doctor made his rounds I wet the bandages with antiseptic solution and then gingerly removed them bit by bit. Still, the burns kept her in agony day and night.

I have practically no recollection of what I ate and how I spent my time during those nine days of nightmare, when patients died one after another. I remained at Mineko's side until finally, on the night of August 29, in the murky darkness of the lecture hall, she died.

At dawn, I gently cleaned the already cold body of my child and dressed her in pure-white cotton underclothes and a flower-patterned cotton kimono--her best clothes--which I had brought with me from the country. Other people tried to console me by saying how lovely she looked.

Kuniko and Mineko had been gentle, healthy girls. I couldn't be at Kuniko’s side; she died alone. But at least I was able to care for Mineko for nine days, and to be with her at the end.

It rained heavily the day I was to start back from Fuchii. People urged me to stay another night and wait for better weather, but I had to leave. Drenched with rain, carrying the cremated remains of my child, I walked back to Yoshijima.

Thinking of how Mineko looked as a toddler, or of her excitement as she prepared for a primary-school picnic, I wept and talked to her, who was now no more than a few bones that rattled softly as I walked in the rain.

The pain from the wound in my head continued unabated. Finally all my hair fell out. Nonetheless, even bald, I was determined to have funeral services for my daughters. With a neckerchief around my head, I saw them to their final resting place.

When my second daughter returned from the hospital, she was unable to lie facing up because of the glass that had become embedded in her back. When I took her to the hospital to have the glass removed it had to be done without benefit of anesthetics. The pain was excruciating. No matter how many pieces were taken out, there were always more. She was only sixteen when she underwent this ordeal. I couldn't bear to watch. Some of the glass is still there and troubles her on rainy days.

Although my youngest daughter escaped exposure to the bomb, she has nonetheless had to suffer with me during the long period in which I have been afflicted with medullary leukemia. The scars of the atomic bomb are borne not only by the victims themselves, but also by their families and loved ones.

Although my husband is now dead, and two of my daughters were lost in the Hiroshima bombing, today, at the age of seventy-eight, I am glad that I survived. Even when marred with suffering and despair, life is good. I am sure that my daughters too wanted very much to go on living. For the sake of my living daughters and in memory of my departed ones, I hope to live out the rest of my life in a spirit of hope.

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