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Nagasaki survivor donates notebook on his bid to identify boy in A-bomb photo

The image of the child whose identity is still unknown is seen in "The boy standing by the crematory," taken by Joe O'Donnell.

NAGASAKI -- A survivor of the atomic bombing of this western Japan city on Aug. 9, 1945 by the U.S. military has compiled a notebook detailing his efforts to pursue the identity and whereabouts of a boy believed to have been photographed shortly after the explosion.

Although its writer, Masanori Muraoka, 85, wasn't able to confirm the boy's information, the notebook indicates how he projected his wish for peace onto the unknown child.

The image, known as "The boy standing by the crematory," is said to have been taken in Nagasaki by U.S. Marine photographer Joe O'Donnell, who died in 2007 at the age of 85. The boy is seen standing to attention with the body of a baby strapped to his back, apparently waiting for the cremation of the baby.

When the image was made public in 1989, Muraoka realized he remembered the boy's face. He says he first met him at the Zenza National Elementary School, now the city-run Zenza Elementary School, in spring 1945, and they played together on multiple occasions. Muraoka didn't know his name, but noticed his clothes and build resembled that of the child in the photo.

Muraoka was 11 when the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. He remembers meeting the boy again after those events, at the mountain behind his home. He says the boy was carrying a baby aged about 1 on his back, and said, "My mother isn't here," to which he replied, "Maybe she's looking for you." Muraoka says the boy then averted his eyes and descended from the mountain.

In January 2018, the Mainichi Shimbun published an article on efforts to find the boy in the image by Yoshitoshi Fukahori, 90, head of the Research Committee for Photographic Records of Nagasaki Atomic Bombing at the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace.

Ultimately he could not ascertain where the picture was taken, or the identity of the boy. Muraoka read the article and thought that it might be the boy he met, and decided to try and solve the mystery himself.

He started his investigation by relying on his memories and books written about the child. The Zenza National Elementary School's pupil records were lost to fire, and although Muraoka consulted contemporary records from schools outside of the city of Nagasaki, it didn't provide any results.

He also met a person who told him they knew the boy's name, but none of the information led to definite clues.

Masanori Muraoka, who compiled a notebook detailing his efforts to pursue the identity and whereabouts of a boy photographed in the image "The boy standing by the crematory," is seen in the city Nagasaki on Aug. 1, 2019. (Mainichi/Yuki Imano)

On Aug. 9 1945, Muraoka was at home, some 1.6 kilometers away from the bomb's hypocenter. He suffered burns to both of his legs and his left arm, which left a keloid scar on his left leg. To escape the fires caused immediately after the bomb exploded, Muraoka and his mother spent days in a bamboo thicket in the mountains.

Muraoka grew up to become an elementary school teacher and came into contact with many children. In search of the boy's identity, Muraoka was reminded again this year -- the 74th anniversary of atomic bombing -- that such a tragedy must never be repeated.

He stated,"Perhaps the boy had lived a quiet life, keeping the sadness and the pain locked away in his heart. We mustn't repeat the boy's tragedy."

The notebook detailing how he investigated the boy's identity has been donated to the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, which gathers and preserves items such as written experience from hibakusha, or A-bomb survivors.

The notebook's conclusion reads, "Whoever the boy standing at the crematory was, he continues to speak for the preciousness of peace and the calamity wrought by war."

(Japanese original by Yuki Imano, Nagasaki Bureau)

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