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85-yr-old Nagasaki A-bomb survivor speaks out for first time for mother, peace

Yoshiyuki Nagata, 85, tells of his experience in the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki with photos of his family in hand, in Nagasaki, on July 19, 2018. (Mainichi)

NAGASAKI -- As the leaders of the atomic bomb survivors' movement, who have continued to pass on the horror of war and nuclear weapons to the next generation, are lost one after the other to the passage of time, who will fill their role pushing for peace?

One Nagasaki atomic bomb survivor, or "hibakusha" in Japanese, Yoshiyuki Nagata, 85, has come forward this year to have staff from the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims transcribe his experiences in the U.S. bombing of the city 73 years ago, on Aug. 9, 1945, for the first time.

Nagata, who has been almost completely unable to speak about that day out of regret over his mother dying after the bomb without him being able to give her water, revealed, "Being able to finally express my feelings of thanks to my mother and that we must never go to war has lightened the weight on my shoulders just a bit."

On the morning of that fateful day, the 12-year-old Nagata, a first-year student in the higher course of Fuchi national school, was on the second floor of his family home in Nagasaki where his 10-member family, excluding his two older brothers who had been sent to war, were living. In the garden, he saw his mother Tsukino doing the laundry and his younger sister Kumiko playing. Carrying his young cousin on his back, just as he announced that he was off to school, the clock struck 11:02 a.m.

The house was a mere 500 meters from the hypocenter of the blast. After being bathed in the bright light, a loud sound and strong winds from the explosion followed. Nagata became trapped in his collapsed house, but he had only suffered some burns to his left hand, and his cousin was also safe. When he managed to get out from under the rubble that had once been his home and ran to a nearby air raid shelter, he found his mother cradling the body of his sister Kumiko, who had died instantly.

The skin on his mother's face was sagging, and her chest was bright red and swollen. Nagata took his mother and his younger brother Masanori, who had suffered a head injury, to Nagasaki Medical College Hospital, the predecessor of Nagasaki University Hospital, on Aug. 12, but his brother died the next day. When his mother asked in a whisper, "How is Masanori?" it took all of Nagata's strength to lie, "He's outside playing."

Nagata's mother had heard, "If you drink water, you will die," and passed away on Aug. 14 not having had a single drop. Nagata lamented, "If I had known she was going to die, I should have made her drink water..."

Nagata's father Tokuichi died soon after the war ended, and with the help of his repatriated older brothers and others, he became a bus driver and did other work to make ends meet.

This June, ahead of the 73rd anniversary of the bombing, he responded to the request to have his testimony of "that day" recorded for the very first time. "I'm here because of my parents," he said, full of gratitude.

With his mother and younger siblings, Nagata lost a total of four family members in the bombing, including his older sister Fumiko, who had left the house to go to her workplace even closer to the hypocenter.

Now, reflecting on his thankfulness for peace, Nagata pressed, "If war breaks out, the first victims are women and children. War is absolutely unacceptable. I would like to maintain a society where young people hold their parents dear and never go to war again."

(Japanese original by Yoshihito Asano, Nagasaki Bureau)

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