Remain The Scars

Kikue Tada

Hiroshima--a city proud of its abundant greenery, blue skies, and its seven rivers forming a beautiful delta--was converted in an instant to scorched earth by the atomic bomb. Even now, thirty-seven years later, I cannot forget the scenes I saw then, scenes beyond the power of pen or tongue to describe.

I was twelve in 1937, when the so-called China Incident occurred. Having been taught that dying for one's country was a great honor, I decided to become a nurse and tend soldiers on the battlefield. When the Pacific War began in December 1941, I had made the spirit of Florence Nightingale my own and become a nurse at the Ujina-machi Joint Army Hospital (currently the Hiroshima Prefectural Hospital). I was then sixteen years old.

Then, on August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb to be used against human beings was dropped on my beloved city. Only a few minutes earlier a brilliant summer sun shone in the sky, people came and went in the streets, and children played under the trees. In one blinding flash all of this became a living hell.

I had gone to my family home in the country to be with my younger brother, who was to enter the navy at a place called Kure on August 6. I returned to the hospital on August 8, two days after the bombing. A stream of trucks was carrying the wounded to the hospital, but the hospital itself was in a shambles, having been hit by a blast of wind from the bomb. The ceilings had fallen, and all the windows were broken. Shattered glass lay everywhere. Because the wards were full, we cleared up the glass from the corridors and lobby and put them to use.

Treatment began with simply determining whether the patient was alive or dead. But there was really not much else we could do. The medical supplies were soon depleted, and we were reduced to brushing the patients' wounds with oil provided by the army. The most we could do for the dead, who lay everywhere at our feet, was to cover them with straw mats. Their bodies were horribly mutilated. Skin hung in tattered strips, and raw bloody wounds gaped like split pomegranates. They were often naked or nearly naked, and yet it was sometimes impossible to tell men from women.

The only food we had to offer them was mush made of flour and water, served in lengths of cut bamboo. There weren't enough nurses to hand-feed the immobile patients; we could only put the food by their sides and have them fend for themselves. In doing this, I asked myself if I was being true to my calling as a nurse. Was it not my duty to help people who could not help themselves? But I had no choice but to steel myself against these doubts and go on with my work.

Making our rounds we lifted up the straw mats covering patients to see whether they were alive or dead. The dead ones were unceremoniously hauled away on stretchers like so much baggage.

Day after day, under a blazing sun, B29s seemed never to tire of flying over the city. Formations of five or ten enemy planes flew over the hospital on their way inland. Each time they came, we hurried the living patients into air-raid shelters. To get out of the heat and into the cool of the shelter, many patients pushed and shoved their way in, only to die there. We walked over their bodies as we carried in other patients. Because it was our duty to stand guard, the nurses had to remain outside the shelters, where every day we watched fighter planes burst into flames and fall into the Seto Inland Sea. It was oddly like seeing war films.

Added to everything else was the constant fear that our white uniforms would make us easy targets for enemy gunners. Our duty to the patients, however, would not allow us to think of our own safety. Instead, between air raids we had to pull a seemingly endless number of bodies from the shelters with hooked poles of the kind used by construction workers, and then haul them to the cremation pit beside the hospital. This pit, which was big enough to hold a building, was fitted with a kind of grill--resembling the grills used in roasting fish--made of heavy steel beams. The bodies were piled on this grill, doused with gasoline, and burned. These cremations took place constantly, day and night.

With no electric lights of any kind, we went about our tasks at night under the illumination provided by the bluish cremation fire and by the flames of still burning houses. All this was ghastly enough, but we encountered even more gruesome sights when we made our rounds.

I recall a screaming baby trying to nurse at the breast of its already dead mother. Could there possibly be any scene more inhuman than this? And once, as I was making a check of the corridors, someone called out to me. Walking toward the voice, what I saw took my breath away--a person so horribly burned that it was impossible to tell whether it was a man or woman. "Nurse," the person said, "my train pass is in my pocket. Would you take it out and look at the photograph. Do I look like the picture?" The person was unable to move, but was apparently desperate to know the answer. From the pass I learned that she was a fourteen year-old girl named Kazuko Fukuda, a second-year student in a girls’ school. The photograph showed a clever-looking girl with bobbed hair. But no words could describe her appearance now. She was like a piece of raw meat from which skin dangled. But I blurted out, "Yes, yes, you look just like this. Very pretty!" Then in broken phrases she said, "My address is written there. Please get in touch with my mother. I can't die without seeing her."

I identified very closely with this poor girl, and wanted terribly to do something for her. After all, there was not that much difference in our ages. Shortly afterward the girl became too weak to talk. I poured a little water in her mouth, and was trying to determine whether she had swallowed it when I realized she was no longer breathing.

I had seen many people die, but no death has remained in my mind as vividly and as long as that of this girl, whose final words were spoken to me. I can still clearly picture her face, and from time to time she appears in my dreams. Even today, I am plagued by the question of whether her family ever received her remains.

A woman with a baby strapped to her back stalked like someone half mad through the corridor, lifting one straw mat after another and shouting, "No! This is not him! No, damn it. No!" Then she lifted the mat from a corpse that was burned black and whose lips were horribly swollen. Turning the body over and seeing a piece of clothing adhering to its back, she shrieked, "It's him! I know this pattern. It's him!" Weeping hysterically, she fell on the poor body that was so disfigured that even a wife of many years was unable to recognize it except by the pattern of a scrap of clothing. For a while I just stood there, wondering why such things had to happen.

The victims who were still alive three days after the blast were in pathetic condition. Their wounds had rotted and oozed black fluid. Maggots crawled around in the joints of their arms and legs; unable to speak, the patients could do nothing but watch the maggots moving about.

Since the day of the bombing, the nurses had lived in the courtyard under a mosquito net. In three or four days, some of the nurses, falling victim to overwork, ran high temperatures, developed diarrhea, and then collapsed. There was no alternative but to send them home. Feelings of frustration and anger became overpowering. On any number of days I thought I had reached my limit. But, renewing my vows as a nurse, I was determined to go on as long as there was an ounce of energy left in me.

Ambulatory patients, constantly calling for water, wandered about like sleepwalkers. Their bodies were painted over with iodine and mercurochrome, adding to their unearthly appearance. As nurses we should have been able to remain composed in front of such people, but sometimes it proved impossible to suppress a gasp of horror.

Though I was subjected to massive doses of secondary radiation while at the hospital, I still hoped to lead a normal, happy life, and eventually I got married. Not long afterward, however, I began suffering from damage to my liver, kidneys, and abdomen. I had two operations on my ovaries. I became feverish and nauseous. Unidentifiable growths, nine or ten centimeters in diameter, began appearing all over my body. Surgery only caused them to multiply. Because I was constantly in and out of the hospital, my husband and I got a divorce.

Physically frail and with two dear daughters to raise by myself, I sometimes thought of suicide. But each time the children encouraged me by saying we would be all right if we all worked together.

Then when it came time for my girls, whose upbringing had caused me such suffering and effort, to get married, I was always asked about the health prospects of children of atomic-radiation victims. The only thing I could say was that they were perfectly healthy at the present time. Even after their marriages, I worried about the children they would bear.

Of course, other people suffered horribly too. A friend of mind, a nurse at the Red Cross Hospital at the time of the bombing, had been trapped under a house and her face burned. She underwent plastic surgery a number of times, but in the end she herself broke off relations with the man she hoped to marry. She now lives alone and works in a hospital.

The aftereffects of the atomic bombing still persist. Five years ago I began suffering from cardiac insufficiency and angina pectoris. Each year, from about October to May, when the weather turns cold, I have severe attacks of pain in the chest that last for an hour or so. My blood pressure rises to 200 over 140. I suffer, but have no idea where to put the blame for the suffering.

Every year on August 6, great crowds of people gather in the Peace Park in Hiroshima. I wonder if they really understand what we victims feel. Can their prayers really contribute to worldwide peace? I have my doubts. But, as one of the few remaining victims of the bombing, I intend to go on telling my story as long as there is life left in me.

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