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Hibakusha: After lengthy wait, 92-yr-old S. Korean man receives A-bomb survivor's certificate

Bae Han-seop receives an atomic bomb survivor's certificate from Keiko Shinozaki, a Nagasaki Municipal Government official, right, in Namhae County, South Korea, on Jan. 28, 2019, as his family and supporters look on. (Mainichi/Takehiro Higuchi)

FUKUOKA -- A 92-year-old South Korean man who survived the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki received an A-bomb survivor's certificate from the city of Nagasaki in western Japan on Jan. 28, nearly 74 years after the nuclear catastrophe and four years after he applied for the recognition.

When passing the certification to Bae Han-seop at his home in the southern South Korean county of Namhae, Keiko Shinozaki, a Nagasaki Municipal Government official, read out a letter from Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue saying, "I am sorry it took a trial and a long time before the issuance of this certificate." Bae, however, couldn't hear the statement as he had lost his hearing after suffering from a stroke in the summer of 2018, when his lawsuit seeking the recognition was still pending in court.

Bae was injured in the atomic blast on Aug. 9, 1945, while he was at his dormitory after being conscripted to work at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Nagasaki Shipyard the year before. Decades later, when he filed an application for the survivor's certificate in May 2015, the Nagasaki Municipal Government rejected his request, stating that "the credibility of his testimony is dubious and there is no evidence backing it."

In September the next year, Bae filed a suit against the city demanding it nullify the rejection of his application. On Jan. 8 this year, the Nagasaki District Court ordered the city to grant the certification to the plaintiff, saying "his testimony is trustworthy."

Even though Bae can hardly speak now as his cognitive and verbal functions have deteriorated due to the stroke, his testimony was consistent when this writer interviewed him on two occasions -- once in July 2015, shortly after he filed for the survivor's recognition, and then again two years after that.

In 1939, Bae moved from the southern Korean Peninsula to the Fukuoka Prefecture city of Yahata (present-day Kitakyushu) in western Japan, where his elder sister was living. As World War II progressed, he was forced to work at the MHI Nagasaki Shipyard from April 1944 and was engaged in work to join steel plates together by driving heated tacks.

While being interviewed, Bae recounted the details of his work by drawing a rough sketch of the shipyard. "This is the dock and a machinery plant was here, and there was a hospital around here ..."

On the morning of Aug. 9, 1945, he was heading to the dining hall of his dormitory following a night shift, when the atomic bomb was detonated at 11:02 a.m. about 5.5 kilometers away. "Things like stones flew over to where I was. I lay low quickly while covering my eyes and ears, but something hard hit my lower back. It ached so much that I fainted," he said, recalling the impact of the blast. He showed this writer his hollowed scars by flipping up his shirt.

The Japanese government began to issue A-bomb survivor's certificates in 1957, providing medical and other assistance to victims. However, Bae, who was back in his hometown farming and fishing after the war, wasn't aware of the move.

It was 70 years after the atomic bombing that he finally got to apply for the certification with the help of his support groups in Japan, but his local compatriots who knew about his Nagasaki bombing experience had passed away, making it impossible for Bae to find witnesses or evidence sought by the Japanese government to support his claims.

Undaunted, Bae strived hard to recall what he had gone through and testified on the situation at the time of the bombing over and over when he applied for the certification and during the trial, but the Nagasaki government dismissed his testimony, saying it was "inconsistent."

"It is utterly frustrating," Bae fumed at the time.

On Jan. 28 this year, the Nagasaki city official who visited Bae at his home to grant the certificate had conversations with his family and support group members for about 40 minutes. Unable to hear what was being talked about, Bae repeatedly gave gestures as if to suggest his bewilderment, and groaned intermittently.

The sight reminded me of Bae's pleas during past interviews, saying in Japanese, "It's not a lie, it's true."

(Japanese original by Takehiro Higuchi, Kyushu News Department)

(This is part one of a series)

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