Survivors' Stories

Tetsuhiko Ohno, 79, Minami Ward, Hiroshima

Searching for old friends since the day of the A-bombing

Happy life with grandchildren, but hopes remain to reunite with schoolmates

Tetsuhiko Ohno, 79, was 12 years old and a student of Misasa National Advanced School in 1945. At 8:15 on the morning of August 6, the moment the atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, he was walking through the Tokamachi district, part of present-day Naka Ward. He and his classmates were heading, two abreast, toward the site where they were mobilized to work, helping to dismantle buildings to create fire lanes in the event of air attacks. They were about 700 meters from the hypocenter when there was a sudden flash, and he lost consciousness.

When he came to, he saw that the sky had changed dramatically. Before the flash, it was a fine day, but now darkness swallowed everything around him. By chance, he came across the tracks of the Hiroshima Electric Railway and dashed along them, running for his life from the fires blazing nearby.

When he made it back to his house in the Yokogawa area, in today’s Nishi Ward, he found that it had burned to the ground. He noticed for the first time that he was nearly naked when a neighbor pointed it out: his clothes were tattered and he had lost his air-raid hood and water bottle. He had also suffered burns to the back of his head, his left leg, and his left arm.

At the air-raid shelter in the neighborhood, where his family had planned to flee when facing an emergency, he was able to reunite with his mother and younger brother. At the time of the blast, they were at home, along with his little sister Nobuyo, who was just two. His mother and brother had managed to escape, but Nobuyo was trapped in the burning house and died. His father, who was working at a printing plant and survived, returned a day or two later.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ohno was struck by the effects of “acute radiation syndrome” on the evening of the bombing. He began vomiting and bleeding from his nose and his gums. By the end of August, all his hair had fallen out. He suffered from a high fever and terrible diarrhea.

For about a week, Mr. Ohno lay in the air-raid shelter and in a hut close by. During that time he heard voices, as if in a chorus, with survivors crying “Please give me water!” and others shouting “Don’t give them water! They’ll die!”

A few days after the bombing, he got a rice ball from a distribution of food. He still clearly recalls the wonderful taste of that rice.

His family searched the wreckage for posts and iron sheets, cobbling together a shack near the site where their house had stood. They lived there until the fall, when they moved to his paternal grandparents’ house in Ujina, part of present-day Minami Ward.

Mr. Ohno has lived many years without knowing what became of the classmates he was with when the A-bomb blast occurred. When he recalls their faces, his eyes fill with tears. “I hope that at least one of my classmates survived,” he said. “I would like to meet and talk with that person.”

Until the age of 71, Mr. Ohno worked as a taxi driver. He loves having five grandchildren, and says that he has led a happy life.

“War involves killing one another. It’s absolutely wrong. I hope the peaceful society we have now will be preserved,” Mr. Ohno said, appealing to today’s young people. (Sakiko Masuda, Staff Writer)

Hiroshima Insight: Acute Radiation Syndrome

Condition caused by exposure to high doses of radiation

Acute radiation syndrome (ARS), also known as radiation sickness or radiation poisoning, is the result of exposure to high doses of radiation in a short period of time. People exposed to the atomic bomb, which emitted a strong burst of radiation, suffered from vomiting, diarrhea, fever, hair loss, bleeding, and loss of consciousness.

Explaining the underlying cause of ARS, Professor Kenji Kamiya, the director of Hiroshima University’s Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine, said that high doses of radiation destroy bone marrow tissue, which is responsible for producing healthy blood and the cells of the digestive system, including the stomach and the intestines.

Beyond the short-term effects of ARS, the radiation exposure experienced by A-bomb survivors has been damaging to their health over the long term, resulting in such conditions as cancer and cataracts. This long-term damage is known as “chronic radiation syndrome.”

In addition to numerous cases of ARS in the aftermath of the atomic bombings, the crew members of a Japanese fishing boat, the “Daigo Fukuryu Maru” (“Lucky Dragon No. 5”) developed the syndrome when their boat was bathed in nuclear fallout from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test conducted in the Bikini Atoll in 1954. Six months after the incident, one of the crew members died of his exposure. ARS also claimed the lives of two workers at the JCO uranium enrichment plant in Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture after an accident occurred there in 1999.

The accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, however, has not resulted in ARS among the local residents because the doses of radiation they have been exposed were comparatively low. As for the workers at the crippled plant, the true impact on their health has yet to be clearly determined.

Teenagers' Impressions

Don’t repeat the tragedy of Hiroshima
Hearing Mr. Ohno talk about the atomic bombing, which he experienced from a spot only 700 meters from the hypocenter, I got a clear picture of the scene, like I had been there myself. I was shocked at the miserable reality of soldiers collecting the bodies and burning them in the aftermath of the bombing. As a student from Hiroshima, I want to do what I can so that the tragedy Hiroshima suffered will not be repeated anywhere else. (Arisa Shiromoto, 16)

War is a terrible thing
I was surprised to hear that, after the bombing, he lost all his hair and his gums began to bleed. When my generation grows up, I hope we’re never involved in a war. I want to learn more about the atomic bombs and war, and I would like the kids of my generation to understand how terrible war is. (Naho Shigeta, 13)

Staff Writer’s Notebook

A monument to comfort the souls of the students who perished in the atomic bombing, the “Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students,” stands south of the A-bomb Dome. Whenever Mr. Ono sees this monument, his eyes cloud with tears as he recalls the schoolmates who died that day.

Mr. Ohno was a student at the old Misasa National Advanced School, now Misasa Elementary School. He experienced the bombing, along with his peers, while en route to their work site, where they were helping to dismantle buildings to create a fire lane in the event of air raids.

Mr. Ohno has no recollection of the fates of his classmates after the A-bomb exploded. Later, he visited the house of a friend who had been assigned to the same work site, but he learned that his friend had died in the bombing. His family then moved to the Ujina district, in today’s Minami Ward, and he never found out anything more about his classmates.

He still hopes to gain information about them, though, and have the chance to meet old friends again and talk. If anyone has information that may help Mr. Ohno, please contact the Chugoku Shimbun. (Sakiko Masuda)

(Originally published on June 25, 2012)