Reported from Hiroshima, Japan.
Setsuko saw a light, and another blue light. Then she lost consciousness.
At 8:15 a.m., August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was used as a weapon for the first time in human history.
Heat rays, blast, and radiation killed about 140,000 people and still counting although exact toll of death is impossible.
Hiroshima was instantly destroyed.
Setsuko Iwamoto, then a 15-year-old schoolgirl, awoke to the cries of children,
“Mommy, mommy, help me, mommy, help me,”
As she stumbled from the school buildings’ debris, the voices faded.
It became dark even though it was morning. It was quiet for a moment.
Next the school was surrounded by screams of children.
Setsuko couldn’t see anything.
Then she found her teacher, whose skin had come off, but was trying to save children.
“Go to the mountain,” her teacher directed. So Setsuko started to walk.
The skin from one of Setsuko’s arms was coming off.
Half of her body was burnt.
Her throat was dry and painful, but she kept on walking.
She passed by many people with their melted skin peeling from their shoulders to their fingers.
Skin separating from their backs looked like skirts.
Skin from their legs just barely attached to their heels.
Some, their eyes popped out, intestines coming out of their abdomen. Others pierced by hundreds shards of glass.
They walked like ghosts, she recalled.
The dead were everywhere.
Some saw their loved ones dying in front of their eyes but couldn’t help them, couldn’t save them.
The burning drove people into the water to relieve their pain. They died in the water.
The seven rivers in Hiroshima were filled with bodies.
There were many children in the river, screaming with pain.
A teacher told them to sing a song for the emperor – “Our body belongs to the emperor,”
Soon, those little heads dipped under the water and never came back up.
Setsuko’s friends from school asked her to go into the river with them. Even though she was in agony from the burn, she refused and kept walking towards Mount Hiji because that is what her teacher wanted her to do.
Setsuko never saw those friends again.
As she walked towards mountain, Setsuko came across badly burnt young mothers who pleaded her to save their burnt babies.
“Please, please save my baby, please help my baby.”
She wished she could. She, too, was suffering from severe pain.
She couldn’t save any of these babies.
This haunts her still, 60 years later.
There were babies, who kept suckling their mothers’ breasts, not knowing their mothers were dead.
Dead bodies were everywhere.
Many burnt dead bodies were embracing each other.
Dead mothers had their arms around their children.
Other dead small children clung tightly to each other.
As Setsuko walked closer to the mountain, one lady saw her walking barefoot.
She said, “Oh, dear, you have no skin on your feet.”
She gave Setsuko her shoes. But Setsuko’s burnt feet hurt so badly that she couldn’t wear them.
When she arrived at the mountain, Setsuko found a temporary relief station.
Setsuko rested there until her family found her on August 15, 1945, the day the World War II ended.
At the station, other wounded survivors asked Setsuko to pick maggots off of their bodies.
In hot August summer days; flies laid eggs in the badly burnt flesh.
You couldn’t find the eggs, but when they hatched – and it was painful – you could pick the flies up with chopsticks, Setsuko said.
When her grandparents finally found Setsuko, they took her their home. Since they couldn’t find any medicine for her wounds, her grandmother used cucumber juice, which she heard was good for the burns.
Food was scarce; Setsuko didn’t know how her grandmother got cucumbers.
The burn was so painful that Setsuko cried and cried and told her grandmother she didn’t want her arms and legs anymore.
Soon, her hair was all gone.
She was bleeding inside and suffered from diarrhea.
A huge growth appeared on top of her head. That growth kept on bleeding and soaked her pillow in red.
Still, there was no medicine.
Her grandmother somehow found herbs that she heard helped control tumors. She marinated them in salt and applied them to the growth. Then her grandfather eventually took his razor and cut it off from her head.
It was a size of a baseball.
During the ordeal, she never saw a medical doctor. But the care from her grandparents healed her enough.
That fall, children were asked to return to the school site to find and pick up their classmates’ bones so that they could be properly buried.
There were so many children’s bones by the doorway of school.
She realized it could’ve been her bones there, and it could have been somebody else picking up her bones.
Her tears came running.
Setsuko said she could still hear the voices,
“Mommy, daddy, help me,”
“Please give me some water,”
Petite, gray-haired Setsuko looks at the faces of the students that came to hear her story at the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum.
They are about the same age as she was on that day.
She tells them of her visit to a museum in China dedicated to those who were killed by Japanese.
She said she realized that winning or losing didn’t matter.
There were only victims in the war.
“When you go home, please tell others. And tell others to tell others. We have to create a society, which would never repeat such a horrible act in humankind. Humans did it, so humans could prevent such a mistake again. Please, keep telling. Keep speaking up.”
Then she read a poem written by a boy who was eight when the atomic bomb was dropped.
Said my little brother,
Please give me water,
Please give me a bit of water,
His voice weakening,
Then his voice disappeared,
I wish I had given him water,
I couldn’t see anything,
My eyes couldn’t open from blood,
My mommy died,
My little sister also died,
I have no one.
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