September 20, 2013
Sumitero Taniguchi worked as a mail delivery boy starting in 1943 in Nagasaki. He recalls having to dodge flying shrapnel during air raids on a few occasions, but he would describe those bombings as being relatively small in scale. In the dark hours of the morning on 9 August 1945 there had been air-raid warnings and deliveries were temporarily halted while the employees stayed in the office for shelter. Dawn came and the deliveries were resumed, so Taniguchi was sent out on his bicycle to start his day of work. Being out in the countryside, he felt comfortable that if an air raid did take place he would be in a relatively safe area. When he heard the drone of the bombers overhead, he remembers wondering why the air raid sirens had stopped.
The nuclear bomb, “Fat Man”, dropped from the B-29 “Bockscar”, detonated at 11:02 am. Taniguchi remembers the great flash of light and then being thrown off his bicycle and pounded onto the ground which was shaking like in an earthquake.
In those moments he saw the last house that he had delivered mail to totally destroyed; he saw debris of all kinds flying through the air and a child totally blown away. As he picked himself off the ground he felt the that the skin and flesh of his left arm and back was slimy. He found a group of people who rubbed machine oil on his burns and they ambled forth together to seek shelter, their numbers dwindling as people collapsed from their wounds and fell to the ground to wait for death.
Taniguchi describes the medical treatment and the utter confusion about the nature of the injuries people had suffered. At the hospital there was a belief that the atomic bomb was poisonous, and the most common remedy for the radiation sickness was herbal tea and even on occasion the fresh liver of a recently butchered cow. Due to the horrific burns on his back, Taniguchi was forced to lie on his stomach, unable to move, for a year and nine months. In March 1949, he was finally allowed to return home, but his suffering would persist for a long time to come.
During that time, I was in pain, I suffered, and wanted to die. I finally asked for a week’s leave from the office and left home without telling anyone and went to Karatsu in the Shiga prefecture to die. I climbed the hills and went to the sea to think about it. But in my thoughts, I thought about all the people who had died. Although I was in pain, I was still alive. When I thought about who did this crime to me, I realized that I must live on behalf of those who died unwillingly. I have to tell what happened, so they will not have died in vain.
Taniguchi has spent the last 6 decades speaking about his experiences and advocating for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Photo credit: darrellmiho.photoshelter.com