Survivors' Stories

Takumi Kumano, 85, Higashi Ward, Hiroshima

Encounter with boy in A-bomb aftermath led to contributions to others

by Daisuke Neishi, Staff Writer

“I wanted to help him.” Takumi Kumano, 85, can’t forget the boy who clung to his leg that day, begging for help. Mr. Kumano survived the sea of flame then aided others after the war, spurred by his regret over the boy he could not save and his experience of the cruel sights, including countless bodies.

At the time of the atomic bombing, Mr. Kumano was a third-year student at Hiroshima Prefectural Hiroshima Technical High School. He was working as a mobilized student at a factory in Koi-cho (now Nishi Ward), about three kilometers from the hypocenter. The moment the morning assembly broke up, he saw a flash of light and felt an intense blast. When he came to, the walls of the wooden factory had been blown down, leaving behind only its pillars and roof. People inside the factory were blown off their feet and injured, but no one was killed.

Black rain fell heavily soon after, and Mr. Kumano got soaked to the skin, his body becoming black as tar. He was ordered to take refuge somewhere in the suburbs with a relative or friend, because the city center had been obliterated, but, as the eldest son, he was concerned about the safety of his family. So he decided to return to his home in Ushita (now part of Higashi Ward), whatever the cost, and headed toward the flames in the heart of the city.

Most of the streets were blocked by debris, but he managed to pass along a wide road where there was a streetcar line. Because of the fire and smoke, he couldn’t see beyond a few meters in front of him; he could only follow the streetcar tracks. His soaking wet clothes dried out due to the intense heat and, as he went on, he doused himself with water from cisterns that dotted the sides of the road, intended to extinguish fires in the event of air raids. Thousands of wounded survivors fled in the opposite direction, including a mother who was bloodied and covered with burns, a baby held in her arms. “It was hell on earth,” Mr. Kumano said.

In Dobashi-cho (part of Naka Ward), he saw around 30 boys lying on the ground. One boy, still breathing, grabbed Mr. Kumano’s leg and pleaded, “Please help me.” Mr. Kumano thought he would have died, too, if he had stopped to help the boy. “I’m begging you, let go of my leg,” he said. But the boy would not let go. Mr. Kumano asked again and again, and told the boy, “I promise I’ll get revenge for you.” Then, all of a sudden, the boy released his grip. Mr. Kumano walked away with the words, “I’m sorry.”

When he finally reached his home, he found that the members of his family were all safe. The next morning, he and his father ventured into the city center to search for relatives. Bodies scattered on the ground had become infested with maggots. At the windows of burnt streetcars were the charred bodies of passengers who had tried to escape. At the place where he had encountered the boy, he saw heaps of bones. He cried at the sight.

Friends and neighbors who had survived the blast then died one after another. One boy, a year younger than Mr. Kumano, had escaped the bombing without injury, but lost his hair and teeth and died three days later. He wondered if he would be next. Each day he awoke, he was relieved to find that he was still alive. But in time, he began to suffer from diseases induced by the A-bomb.

After the war, Mr. Kumano developed severe illnesses, including a spinal tumor. The most painful experience was when his second daughter died. He went to his wife’s parents’ home one month after his daughter was born and found that she was now smaller than at the time of her birth. The baby died ten days after she was diagnosed with a heart ailment. Looking at his wife, who was frantic with grief, he wondered if his daughter had died as a result of his A-bomb experience.

He worked for an automobile sales company after the war, managing the staff as “a hard-hearted sergeant.” For a long time he was president of the alumni association of his alma mater and was engaged in social welfare activities. Many times, he thought he would die of illness. Unable to forget what he experienced that day, he became determined to go on and do his best for other people and for the world.

“I don’t want other people to have to experience what I experienced,” Mr. Kumano said. “I want younger generations to live in peace. I’m absolutely against war and atomic bombs.” This is the message Mr. Kumano wants to convey to young people.

Teenagers’ Impressions

Nuclear weapons must be abolished

When neighbors died of A-bomb disease, Mr. Kumano would check his hair and teeth each morning. When he woke up, he felt a fear of death. I couldn’t stand a life like that. Decades later, he fell ill and faced death many times. Even after a long period of time, nuclear weapons strike terror in a victim’s heart. I thought again that nuclear weapons must be abolished. (Shiho Fujii, 13 years old)

Thinking what I can do

I was moved deeply by the story of the dying boy who clung to Mr. Kumano’s leg. Mr. Kumano promised that he would get revenge for the boy, and got him to let go, but he lived on with the pain of not being able to help the boy. With this grief in my heart, I want to continue thinking what I can do to help prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again. (Miyuu Okada, 14 years old)

Impressed by his words and attitude

Mr. Kumano said, “You won’t be able to do something if you don’t think you can. It’s important to be mentally tough.” I was impressed by his powerful words and I admire the way he lived his life. He did his best to contribute to society because he had survived the atomic bomb. I, too, want to feel the joy of being alive and do my best to persevere in the things I can do. (Shiori Niitani, 16 years old)

(Originally published on April 27, 2015)