The Lives of Two A-bomb Scientists, Part 1

by Hiromi Morita, Staff Writer

Two boys and their fates

Two boys who were in the same middle school class and suffered the atomic bombing of Hiroshima have both pursued the path of physics since the end of World War II. One is Shoji Sawada, 77, professor emeritus at Nagoya University and a leader of a campaign against atomic and hydrogen bombs, and the other is Hiromi Hasai, 78, professor emeritus at Hiroshima University, who has devoted himself to clarifying the amount of radiation emitted by the bomb. Both men have, in their own ways, continued to question the inhumanity of the event that took the lives of their family members and friends. By doing so, they have confronted their own identities as atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha) and scientists. The Chugoku Shimbun will trace their lives.

Dr. Sawada and Dr. Hasai had not met in a long time when they converged in Hiroshima at the end of the May. Walking through their old neighborhood together in the Hakushima District, they noted that the Hakushima streetcar stop was situated a little more to the south in those days.

The fates of the two boys, now both physicists, crossed at this site 64 years ago.

The two boys, who graduated together from Hakushima Elementary School, entered Hiroshima First Middle School, (now, Hiroshima Kokutaiji Senior High School) in 1944. In the summer of 1945, when they were second-year students, they were mobilized to work at a military supply factory located in Jigozen Village (now, Hatsukaichi City) in a suburb west of Hiroshima. Along with their classmates, they headed for the factory every morning from the Hakushima streetcar stop.

But on the fateful day of August 6, Dr. Sawada did not show up at the streetcar stop. “I had diarrhea and a fever,” he explained. “My brother, who was a sixth-grader, went to the streetcar stop to tell Hiromi and other classmates that I would be absent from school.”

Dr. Sawada, who was sleeping at his home in Higashi Hakushima near the streetcar stop, 1.4 kilometers from the bomb’s hypocenter, has no memory of the actual explosion, which produced a tremendous flash and roar. When he came to, he found himself pinned under the house, which had collapsed. After managing to crawl free of the wreckage, he heard someone calling his name. His mother was still trapped under some broken beams and unable to move.

Though he tried with all his might to pull the wooden beams off his mother, it was far beyond a young boy’s strength. As the fire closed in on the shattered house, his mother firmly urged him to flee. “Be a good man and study hard! Don’t worry about me! You have to run!” As he turned to leave his mother behind, the young Dr. Sawada could only utter, “I’m sorry.” Even now, each time he recalls the scene, he becomes overwhelmed with emotion and wrenching pain.

Around the same time, Dr. Hasai had already arrived at the factory in Jigozen Village. He noticed the flash of the bomb and saw a cloud swelling in the eastern sky. Soon, people with severe burns were brought to the factory, one after another, and each one said, “My house was hit directly by a bomb.” The sky over the city of Hiroshima turned red.

The next day he made his way back home to Nishi Hakushima, passing by the area of the devastated hypocenter. For a long time, he was unable to speak about his experience of entering the city and being exposed to radiation.

Students in the other grades at Hiroshima First Middle School were engaged in demolishing houses to create a fire lane near the hypocenter and many of them perished in the blast. Many of Dr. Hasai’s classmates, who were also at the factory, lost parents and siblings. As to his own family, his mother and one of his sisters were at home and survived the bombing, while his father, whose work had him living alone outside Hiroshima Prefecture, and another sister, who had been evacuated from the city, also survived. His “feelings of guilt” over this also contributed to his silence.

Dr. Hasai said that he had seen a boy’s heroic death at a place where he took refuge with his family. Though the boy had suffered fatal burns, he suddenly broke into singing a military song before he died. “I thought that the boy died well, the way we were taught to die by our teachers,” he recalled. “I imagined my own heroic death would be next.”

The war soon ended. “We were taught to keep fighting even if only one Japanese person was left,” said Dr. Hasai. “What on earth had we believed? What could I believe in then?” At that point, he decided to base his beliefs on what he himself could observe and confirm.

Dr. Sawada, relying on relatives for support, moved to the eastern part of Hiroshima Prefecture with his father, who had survived the bombing at work, and his younger brother, who had gone to the streetcar stop to deliver the message that day. Dr. Sawada then lost contact with Dr. Hasai, who stayed in the city.

Effect of A-bomb radiation on human bodies
There are two types of radiation effects on the human body: 1) the acute effects that appeared immediately after exposure to the atomic bombing and 2) the late effects that appeared several months after exposure. The acute effects included such symptoms as diarrhea, vomiting, hair loss, and a decrease of white blood cells. It has become evident that the late effects involve the development of various cancers, including leukemia, and disorders such as A-bomb cataracts.

(Originally published on July 2, 2009)