Survivors' Stories

Survivors’ Stories: Takae Bungo, 86, Minami Ward, Hiroshima―Could never speak of experiences related to deaths of father and brothers

by Yuji Yamamoto, Staff Writer

Unable to help brother burned over entire body, left with emptiness in heart

There is one area in Hiroshima from which all 200 or so residents who, on August 6, 1945, headed for building demolition work to create fire lanes in the city center were killed in the atomic bombing. This was the village of Kawauchi (now part of Hiroshima’s Asaminami Ward). Takae Bungo (nee Hamao), 86, lost her father, who was mobilized as a member of the Kawauchi Volunteer Fighting Corps, and she herself was exposed to residual radiation when she entered the city shortly after the atomic bombing. Her two brothers were also killed, one in the atomic bombing and the other in the broader war. She had never spoken of her experiences in the bombing because she wanted to forget them.

At the time of the bombing, Ms. Bungo was 10 years old and a fifth grader at Kawauchi National School (now Kawauchi Elementary School). She had gone to school and was in a classroom when boys near the windows cried out, “A ‘B’ [U.S. B-29 bomber]!” Soon, she found herself enveloped by a yellow flash, and then there was a loud boom. She quickly fled to a rice field on the north side of the school and lied face down on the ground.

There was no second bomb, and Ms. Bungo found she had suffered no injuries. She returned home. Back at her house, her ordinarily stoic mother, Himeyo, expressed worry about the safety of Ms. Bungo’s father, Tanichi, and her brother, Hideyuki, who had both traveled in the direction of downtown Hiroshima.

At the time, the village of Kawauchi consisted of the communities of Nukui and Naka Joshi. The Kawauchi Volunteer Fighting Corps was divided into two units, one from each of those areas. August 6 was the day on which the unit from Nukui, where Ms. Bungo lived, was working on building demolition to create fire lanes for the war effort. Her father was 60 years old, the maximum age limit for such activities. He was sent to work in Nakajima-shinmachi (now part of Naka Ward), just south of where Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park’s present-day location.

Tanichi was resting beneath a storehouse when the atomic bomb exploded. He was buried under the storehouse, which had collapsed on top of him, but he managed to crawl out from the wreckage and worked to save people who had been trapped underneath. Flames were approaching and nearly on top of him, however, when he was forced to leave.

He headed for the house of his daughter and Ms. Bungo’s sister, Ayako, in the neighborhood of Eba-machi (now part of Naka Ward), where she had lived after marrying, but his face had swelled from burns and he could no longer see. He entered someone else’s home in the neighborhood by mistake and was taken to Ayako’s house.

Ms. Bungo’s sister laid out a futon on the floor littered with shattered glass from the impact of the atomic bomb and laid him on top. Conveying his wish to go home, Ayako put her father on a fishing boat and tried to go up the river. A collapsed bridge was blocking their path forward, however, and they were forced to return to her house. He died on the morning of the next day, August 7.

Ms. Bungo’s brother, Hideyuki, who was 13 years older than she and worked at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in the area of Gion-cho (now part of Asaminami Ward), was mobilized to work for the war effort in Koami-cho (now part of Naka Ward), where he experienced the atomic bombing. He fled to the Yokogawa train station and asked someone nearby to convey a message to his family that he was safe. Hearing about his situation at midnight on August 6, Ms. Bungo went to search for him with her mother. After finding him, they carried Hideyuki, burned over his entire body, back to their house.

Ms. Bungo took care of him, but all she could do was to remove maggots that had infested his wounds. Hideyuki gazed at the burns on his hands with an expression of regret; the memory of that scene still haunts her. Her brother died on August 27. However, looking back on those days, Ms. Bungo said, “Both my father and brother were able to return home. I felt sorry for other people,” because many bereaved families of A-bomb victims in the community of Nukui were unable to find bodies or remains of the victims.

After the war, Ms. Bungo heard word that her other brother, Jo, who was 15 years older, had died in the war. He was said to have been shot in the head as Japan’s forces were withdrawing from Burma (now Myanmar). He died four days before the end of the war.

Having lost the family’s breadwinners, Himeyo worked diligently in the fields. Thanks to her mother’s efforts, Ms. Bungo was able to attend Hiroshima Women’s Junior College (now Hiroshima Prefectural University). She became a nutritionist and married Kei, a high school teacher. She taught at Hiroshima Bunkyo Women’s Junior College for 36 years and raised three sons and one daughter. During that entire time, she never recounted her A-bombing experience, because it has left a gaping hole in her heart.

At the end of last year, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings, Ms. Bungo visited the Monument for the Volunteer Army Corps, which consoles the spirits of those lost in the war from the village of Kawauchi. The name Tanichi Hamao was inscribed on the monument. She said, “If my father had been alive, I would have learned so much from him.” She still thinks about her family at the time when her father and two brothers were alive.

(Originally published on January 11, 2021)