A Lesson from Nagasaki

Nagasaki_peace_garden_pointing_statueAn amazing story by an acquaintance of  mine.  Lafayette Political Buzz Examiner Ken LaRive

In the spring of 1970 the carrier USS Kitty Hawk pulled into the port of Sasabo Japan. I was one of about two thousand Navy service men standing at parade rest as we pulled into slip. I didn’t know it at the time, but we did this as a sign of respect.

We were explained a lot while at sea, more than any other port. Or relationship with Japan is complicated. There were discussions on our ship’s closed circuit TV, and a variety of mandatory general briefings went on for weeks before we arrived. Among a lot of information, we were told that no nuclear carriers were allowed to dock, that no civilian clothing would be allowed on shore leave, that we were to be on our best behavior, and that any breach of conduct would be dealt with harshly.

My two best friends, Al Moore and Gary Hammitt, both four by six, had already made two West Pac tours. They knew the ropes, and had been to Japan twice before. In the chow hall we discussed where to go, deciding to give one of our three days to the village of Nagasaki. We would stay in a quaint bed and breakfast next to a “hotsie bath”, close to ground zero. It was the place where we had dropped the second nuclear bomb less then thirty years before. These gardens and museum we planned to see stood at the very epicenter.

1970 is thirty four years ago. At the time it had been just twenty-six years since the bomb. I thought 26 years was an awful long time back then, as my first 20 years had crawled by slowly.

In dress blues, spit polished shoes, and zippered haircuts, we made it through the gambit of old Chiefs and Petty Officers looking for any excuse to turn us around. We all slid through, and with a practiced and proper salute of the ensign we walked the aft plank to a very busy peer, and a bright spring day.

Pea Coats slung over our shoulders, and swinging our overnight bags, we made our way to the Base Exchange where our rental car waited. Past the jar head guards who gave us a final look-over, we were out of the gate and on the road, free at last. Gary’s international driver’s license had again come in handy.

There were fields of flowering fruit trees, and amazing rice paddies built on steps into the hills. Colorful pagodas, brightly painted bridges over clear swift moving streams, and elaborate manicured flower gardens were an artist’s dream. Hanging baskets were everywhere, holding delicate clusters of every conceivable color.

In three hours we were on the outskirts of this famed city of Nagasaki. If I hadn’t known, I would never have guessed this city had been completely razed. It was beautiful. Industry, suburbs, open shops, electric train stations, children flying silk kites, new American and Japanese cars mixed with hundreds of bicycles, all blended so as to dazzle the senses. We stopped for lunch and I had Sukiyaki for the first time, eating everything but the raw egg in the middle. I was mesmerized.

By early noon we pulled into the Atomic Park, and though I can truly say that most of this trip is now a blur or forgotten, there are some things that will never leave my mind.

There, before the six-story museum was a giant statue of a muscle man, the “Statue of Peace.” Under it was carved in several languages: “Beware! It comes from the sky, it will level the earth.” One of his strong arms was pointing to the heavens, and it is said that the tip of his finger is where the bomb blew up. His other arm is outstretched to show destruction.

Each floor in the museum is dedicated to some aspect of this horror. One floor showed nothing but burn victims, that was 90% of the deaths here. Trying to separate skin from clothing was the hardest part, but I’ll spare you the ghastly details. I couldn’t stay but for a moment on the floor of genetic abnormalities, the next generation.

One floor had thousands of everyday objects displayed, showing the strange effect that the bomb’s intense heat had on them. Four bottles of wine melted together with the corks and liquid still intact, half of an iron melted down a mantle in its own molten puddle, bubble blisters of metal and glass that was once a car, and the strangest picture that haunts me even as I write this… With high resolution color film a photographer took a picture of a charred wall. It was blown up to its original size, and the charred ivy that covered the wall was jet black. But there, to the side, was a vivid silhouette of healthy fresh ivy, untouched by the flash of heat. It was the body of a man holding the hand of a child that stood before that wall, saving that area from the burn. I could almost see them, her little dress, his hat, her thin arm and her hand in his, could all be seen. It was a moment frozen in horror. I stood before that wall for a long time, and the gravity of what this all was hit home.

It was the morning of August 9, 1945. At 07:50 Japanese time an air raid sounded. Soon after, at 08:30, an all clear signal was given. At 10:53 two B-29 super-fortresses were sighted, but officials gave no alarm thinking that these planes were just another reconnaissance. It didn’t matter, as no alarm would have made the slightest difference. No one expected anything like this. A few moments later one of the B-29s dropped a bundle of instruments attached to three parachutes. At 11:02 the other plane dropped a large object set to detonate a few hundred feet above the ground, for full effect. At the point of this muscle man’s finger an atomic bomb exploded.

Captain F.l. Ashworth, U.S.N. was in technical command of this mission. He watched as the bomb detonated above the valley of Nagasaki. He wrote: “The bomb burst with a blinding flash and a huge column of black smoke swirled up toward us. Out of this column of smoke there boiled a great swirling mushroom of gray smoke, luminous with red, flashing flame, that reached 40,000 feet in less than 8 minutes. Below through the clouds we could see the pall of black smoke ringed with fire that covered what had been the industrial area of Nagasaki.”

nagasaki-0774,000 people were dead in that flash of light, and 75,000 burn victims screamed into the afternoon, into the weeks, the years ahead. 95% of all injuries died from burns.

This bomb had the equivalent of 20,000 tons of T.N.T. To give you some idea of what power we are talking about, it takes just on pound of T.N.T. to raise 36 lbs. of water from freezing to boiling. A nuclear fission equivalent pound of uranium would produce the same temperature rise of 200 million pounds of water.

Radiation comes in many forms. Initially, heat radiation traveling at the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second, promotes wavelengths all the way to gamma rays, shorter than even an x-ray. This radiation comes in two bursts. The first lasts just 3 milliseconds of ultra-violet radiation, destroying all life within reach. The second lasted for about three seconds, 90% of the total light, and able to raise the temperature of skin by 50 degrees.

At the beginning of WW2 the bombing of civilians was not even considered. We were desperate for a closure, and desperation seeks desperate action. Though we can justify our actions, we should all realize what actually happened, and try everything within our power to see that it doesn’t happen again.

We met up later on the huge colonnade before the Statue of Peace. Close by is a little obscure hill that is the actual ashes of those who died that awful day. It is covered in flowers.

Busses of school children loaded and unloaded on a large turn around next to the parking lot. They walked holding hands and smiling, in clean pressed uniforms. Suddenly I was surrounded by a group holding out little scraps of paper and pencils. They wanted a sample of our writing. Our squiggly lines fascinated them, as their open smiles fascinated me. The adults were just as friendly, and I wondered what was in their hearts. I wrote down my name many times, and gave it to little soft hands reaching up to me. Suddenly they were loading up the bus and waving goodbye. I saw that little girl on the wall …I still do.

I think back on this with the same wonder, and a bit of regret too. I wish I had not put my name on those tiny pieces of paper, but had written the words “Love and Peace” instead.

Back to top button