Memoir of the A-bombing
Left as a Survivor

 by Kwak Bok Sun
    Hiroshima Confederation of
    A-and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization

August 6

I was 17 years old at the time, and was living in 5-chome, Otemachi, which was 900 meters from the hypocenter. On the morning of August 6, I had been invited by a woman in the neighborhood to go with her to get a late delivery of rice, and was preparing to go. I had just come out of the toilet when all of a sudden the house collapsed and I was trapped underneath the rubble. When I finally managed to crawl outside, everything around me was pitch black.

As far as I could see, all the houses were completely destroyed and flames were rising here and there. Amidst the screaming voices, groaning voices, and voices crying out for help, I strapped some boards to the soles of my feet as a substitute for shoes and fled as fast as I could. Rain started to fall on the way. The raindrops were like drops of mud, turning the fleeing people a black color. When I reached Kan-on Bashi bridge, there were huge tongues of fire rising up on the other side of the river, and I could not go any further. I had no choice but to spend the day at a nearby evacuation site. As that area, too, gradually turned into a sea of fire, I could not stay there. I cooled myself by going into the river from time to time.

Scenes of Hell
After spending the night in an air-raid shelter, the next morning the fires had mostly subsided so I set out to return to my home. However I was surprised when I reached Meiji-Bashi bridge. It was a scene that I could truly only describe as hell. Completely naked people were laid in rows one after the other on the bridge, with just a small space cleared for people to pass through. They were groaning “Soldier, please give me water”, “Mum, I’m hot”, and “I’m in pain, please help me…”. I heard someone say that if they were given water they would die, so I did not give them water. I am filled with regret about this even now, because I think that since they were going to die anyway, I should have given them water at the end of their lives.

People dead in a fire cistern, suffering junior high schools students, suffering horses and mother and children (A-bomb Drawings by the Survivors by Toshiko Kihara)

So Many Unforgettable Scenes
The river nearby was overflowing with corpses, and military personnel picked up the bodies, placed firewood around, doused them in oil and burned them one after another. They then recorded the gender and the height of each person, the estimated age, etc on roof tiles, placed the remains on them and lined them up, which filled up the whole ground as far as we could see. A mother who had been looking for her child but had given up, said “Let’s take one of these home and pray and look after it, I don’t care which one. Because I’m sure someone else will do the same for our child.” I will never forget the sight of the father, who just kept shaking his head no matter how much she tried to persuade him.

The Hell That Followed

As I lost my parents at a young age, I grew up missing them, and having my own family was a dream for me. After the bombing, my hair fell out and I continued to suffer from hemorrhaging in the lower half of my body. Although I was worried that I would never be able to have children, I got married the following year, and three years later finally had a child. However I continued to suffer from after effects from the atomic bomb. I did not have even one single day when I felt well. It was day after day of continuous suffering. As I had young children, I felt, “I can’t die, but it’s so painful to live”. Nonetheless, having somehow managed to desperately survive through such times and bring up my children, it was then that I was first able to look back on my past experiences. I thought that, “if we were in wartime, these children of mine would all be taken from me by the war”. And this made me feel strongly that I definitely did not want that to happen.

The Survivors’ Mission
Twenty-two years have passed since I started my activities as an A-bomb witness. In the bookshelf at my home I have a bookmark that says “I will never forget today’s experience”. This was a gift to me from a 2nd year junior high school student from Kumamoto. Every time I receive letters of encouragement or letters expressing the importance of peace from students who have listened to my testimony, I am filled with gratitude that I have survived till today. My only wish now is that I will be able to continue to be well and talk about my experience. That is because I have come to believe that this is the mission of those who have survived.

Kwak Bok Sun
Was born in 1928 in Kitatama-gun, Tokyo City. Moved to Yano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture in 1938. Experienced the A-bombing at the age of 17 in Otemachi. Traveled to Washington D. C., America, in 1986, as a member of the Peace Flight, and there took the first step of becoming an A-bomb eyewitness. Has continued to the present.

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