In a flash,
their world was lost, and the war in the Pacific was
- BY SALLY MACDONALD
Seattle Times staff
It was a beautiful summer morning, and people
were beginning to stir.
Hasegawa was waiting for a train to take him downtown to work, widening the
streets of Hiroshima for fire lanes. Not far away, Mary
Fujita was catching a streetcar for an early dental appointment. Ken Nakano and other middle-school students were gathering at
the sweet potato patch they had been assigned to work.
the north, in a prisoner of war camp near Toyama, Bryce
Lilly was hauling molten slag from the furnaces at a steel mill. At another
camp, even farther north, in the mountains near Hanawa, Roger
Lawhead had climbed the snowy path to begin another long day mining
Three thousand miles away, in an army camp in the
recently liberated Philippines, Pfc. Bill Endicott was
learning to shoot a Thompson machine gun, preparing to invade
Hours earlier at Tinian in the South Pacific, one of
the staging areas for that planned invasion, Richard Wilson wondered what was up
with the mysterious airmen who had landed their B-29s on the north field, had the
planes serviced in secrecy and then taken off in the
One of those B-29s from Tinian, the Enola Gay,
dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima that morning. It was an attempt, American
military leaders said, to shorten the war and circumvent an invasion of Japan.
Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Japan's leaders
announced their surrender within days, on Aug. 14.
searing atomic moment over Hiroshima 50 years ago Aug. 6 changed the lives of
everyone involved in the war. Civilians like Hasegawa, Fujita and Nakano were
devastated by the bomb. They are among the few to survive it into old age.
Prisoners of war like Lilly and Lawhead were freed by it. And soldiers like
Endicott and Wilson were spared an invasion.
Here are their
Hasegawa was only a small boy when the bomb was dropped. He is now a
dentist in Columbia City, Washington.
- Fred Hasegawa was 15. His parents had immigrated to
Hawaii, where he was born. His father had worked in the cane fields and owned a
general store on Maui before retiring in 1933 and moving the family back home to
There were 250 students in Hasegawa's high school
class. School had been closed, but every morning the students took a train from
the outskirts of Hiroshima, where they lived, into the city to work for civil
defense -- half in a weapons factory, assembling parts, and half tearing down
houses to cut a fire lane through the city in case of a B-29
On Aug. 6, Hasegawa found the weapons factory closed
because some necessary parts hadn't arrived. He and the other factory students
were told to take the train and join their classmates on the fire lanes.
The bomb hit suddenly. One moment they were standing on the
train platform. The next a blinding light shattered the morning sun and a cloud
of dust seemed to put it out. Hasegawa was knocked to the ground by the
"I didn't know what had happened. We had
natural gas tanks, and I thought maybe they had blown up. I crawled behind a
building. I couldn't hear anything. My hearing was gone in the explosion. There
was dust everywhere, and I couldn't see anything. I only wanted to go
By the time Hasegawa gathered himself to start
walking toward home, what little was left of the city was in flames. Survivors
were beginning to stagger through the streets, looking for help or
Hasegawa skirted the inner city and walked around the
bay. People were dragging themselves into the water to soothe their burns. He saw
a schoolmate, a boy so badly burned he was almost unrecognizable. The boy's skin
seemed to be dripping from his arms.
"When I got
closer to the city, everybody's faces were so swollen they didn't look like
people. I thought they were dead. You couldn't tell men from women. They were all
asking for water. There were too many of
Hasegawa was lucky. The train station was three
miles from ground zero. He wasn't badly injured, and no one in his family was
Hasegawa, a dentist who returned to the United
States to graduate from the University of Washington, is among about two dozen
atom-bomb survivors in the Seattle area. Every other year, a group of doctors
from a joint Japanese-U.S. research foundation comes from Japan to study them and
others from Oregon and British Columbia.
through the greatest danger of cancers and other sicknesses that can be traced to
the bomb's radiation, and the doctors say their progeny don't seem to be
suffering the genetic damage that was feared in the early years.
Mary Fujita was riding on a street car
when the bomb was dropped.
- The bomb exploded a half-mile away from
Mary Fujita's streetcar stop. She was thrown out and under it by the explosion.
When she crawled out her clothing was gray with dust but her straw hat was still
miraculously on her head.
Five years earlier, Fujita, her
husband, Kango, and son, Gene, had left their adopted home in the southwestern
Washington town of South Bend to return to Japan for an extended family visit.
When war shut down transportation between Japan and the U.S., they, like many
American residents, were trapped in Japan.
Mary and Gene
stayed in the city, in her uncle's home, so Gene, who was 16, could go to school;
Kango lived 78 miles away on his family farm, where he grew their
On Aug. 6, Mary, who was 37, woke Gene early so he
could beat rush-hour traffic to work packing military rations. Kango, who
happened to be in town visiting, drove off on his motorcycle to do an errand in
the government offices downtown.
Mary saw the flash as she
stepped into the streetcar. She and the driver were blown out the door together,
and they stood up at the same time. All around them was devastation, silence and
an unnatural darkness. The driver had a huge piece of glass protruding from where
her nose should have been. They talked about finding a hospital and realized
there probably were no hospitals. Nothing was as it had
"I looked down at myself and I wasn't
burned," she says. "I had my straw hat, my clothes, my shoes. The
driver was taller than I was. I think she made a shadow for me and kept me from
Mary ran the three miles home. The
people she saw on the way "didn't look like Japanese people, their hair all
kinked up and gray with ashes, no clothes, their skin burned. I thought I must be
in a different country."
Gene came home that evening,
carrying a schoolmate who was so badly injured Mary scarcely recognized him. They
took him to his relatives, and the next day began the search for Kango. Mary
found his motorcycle three days later, outside where the government offices had
been. But she never found her husband.
Mary and Gene
suffered some radiation sickness beginning soon after the bomb fell. She was weak
and nauseated and lost most of her hair. He had diarrhea and his gums bled.
Whatever problems she has now, though, she blames on old
The Fujitas returned to Washington in 1950. Mary never
remarried. She continues to work for peace and an end to
"They say they had to drop the bomb, but it
was a great sacrifice. I hope they never use the atomic bomb again. Other bombs,
you get hurt or killed. But this one hurts into the future. I hate war, but it
looks like we can't avoid it."
Ken Nakano was born in Portland,
Oregon, in 1931, and his family had moved back to Hiroshima when he was about
He remembers seeing the shiny B-29 flying overhead and
two white parachutes drifting down over the city. He remembers the light and a
huge explosion. He was about a mile from the blast site.
The first thing he noticed was the hood on his jacket had
caught fire and burned the left side of his face. He burned his hand trying to
put the fire out. He reached home about 1 in the
Nakano's mother had been about 1,500 feet from
ground zero. She came out of the blast without a scratch. But she died four days
later of radiation poisoning. She was among the 40,000 Hiroshima residents who
survived the bomb but died before the end of the year.
the war, Nakano joined the American army. He served four years in the military
and graduated from the University of Washington. This summer he retired from
Nakano says he can understand why the bomb was
dropped on Hiroshima -- it was a prime military target and the Americans wanted
to put an end to the war. Like many U.S. war veterans, he believes the Japanese
leaders could have saved the city if they'd heeded the U.S. ultimatum to
surrender or be destroyed.
"I'm trying to be
honest," he says to those who criticize his position, often bitterly.
"Who started the war? The Japanese did. They attacked Pearl
Roger Lawhead was 25 and an Army tank mechanic when
the Japanese captured him in the Philippines. He survived the Bataan Death March,
prison camp in the Philippines and a ride on a "hell ship" to
Life in the camps was horrendous. The Americans had
set up an embargo on Japanese ports and there wasn't enough food for the
Japanese, much less their prisoners. The guards were cruel, beatings commonplace.
Once Lawhead was put into a cage so small he couldn't
Hanawa was much too far from Hiroshima and Nagasaki
for Lawhead to see the mushroom clouds that marked the atomic bombs. But one day
the prisoners were called together and told the mine would close that day because
it was a Japanese holiday. The following day they were told the same
"On the third day our camp commander told us he
thought the war was probably over. We politely applauded, but we didn't
celebrate. Our feelings were kind of numb. We'd been prisoners 41 months. Then we
went back to our cabins and talked about our
Lawhead, a retired mechanic who lives in
Ridgefield near Vancouver, Washington, had tuberculosis and didn't get home until
October 1945. But as far as he's concerned, the Americans couldn't do enough fast
enough to get him out of Japan, and that includes dropping the atomic bomb. He
still has nightmares about being a prisoner.
rough," he says. "For example, a couple of years ago I was at a golf
course and a whole bunch of Japanese men were there having a golf tournament.
They were standing around laughing, and I couldn't stand it. I had to get out of
there. I try hard to forgive. I know the Japanese here had nothing to do with it,
but I just get roiled up inside. Whenever I see news items where the Japanese
refuse to apologize for what they did ... well, it's been rough."
Bryce Lilly holds the decorated
uniform he was issued upon his arrival back in the United
- Bryce Lilly
was 21 when he was captured on Bataan and 25 when the war ended. He had been with
the Army Air Corps and had no infantry training. The first time he used his rifle
on Bataan, "I was shooting at a man to kill
As a prisoner of war, Lilly worked at a steel
mill near Toyama. "We did everything the hard way. We carried slag out by
bucket. We'd have to go right up to the door of the furnace to take the ingots
out. When we did that, our clothes would catch fire and we'd have to roll in the
dirt to put it out."
Lilly had been a football player
and boxer when he was a teen -- healthy and fit with a fighting weight of 185. As
a malnourished prison laborer he was down to 80 pounds.
Aug. 2, hundreds of American B-29s bombarded Toyama with napalm, destroying 99
percent of its buildings. "The sky lit up like daylight. The bombs set a
fire so huge it created a hurricane. They herded us into a rice paddy. That's
what kept us alive, the water. Everything around us was on fire. We were glad to
see the bombers come, but we wished they'd hurry up and
When the Japanese surrendered, the camp commander
called the American platoon leaders over and said, "Soon you'll be able to
go home. You have a bomb that's the size of a basketball and it can blow up a
By Aug. 27, the prisoners received word
from the Navy: "We'll be looking for you. Mark some sign on the
So they took lime and drew huge letters in the
middle of the compound -- "P-W."
By Sept. 1, C-47s
were landing to take them home.
"They had to drop the
bombs," says Lilly, a retired property manager who lives in Kenmore.
"The Japanese had 10,000 kamikazes waiting. They weren't going to give up.
MacArthur estimated our first-day losses in an invasion would be 50,000. And
they'd have lost people too, in an invasion."
time Richard Wilson, 78, of Kent, Washington, got to Tinian as part of the Army
Air Force, the island was secure.
He had charge of the
power plant at the bomber base and drove a water truck, hosing off the B-29s when
they returned to Tinian from bombing raids over Japan.
Enola Gay was just another bomber to Wilson, except for the secrecy surrounding
the runway it sat on.
He learned what had happened at
Hiroshima within hours of the mission, Wilson says. "We'd heard they were
testing a big new bomb, and when they came back they had these pictures of the
big mushroom cloud. The pilots said that cloud made it hard to fly the
Like most veterans, Wilson believes the bomb
helped hasten the end of the war.
"A lot of my friends
were in the Marine Corps," he says. "They'll tell you about being in
Okinawa getting ready for the invasion of Japan. My feeling is, the bomb saved
Bill Endicott was 18 and in the Philippines with the
33rd Infantry Division, training for the invasion.
remembers a Filipino laundryman insisting on being paid before taking his laundry
one day. "You guys are shipping out," he was told, and it was news to
"But we were training hard. We knew we were going
into some pretty fierce action. I figured we'd be some of the first ones to land
because we were training with machine guns instead of M-1 rifles."
A few years ago Endicott wrote the government asking for a
list of buddies for a possible reunion. Among the things the government sent back
was a sheaf of declassified papers that had once been marked top secret. They
outlined Strategic Plan "Downfall" -- the plans to land on Japanese
soil Nov. 1, 1945.
The documents indicated up to 1.3 million
servicemen and 1,000 landing craft would take part. They'd land first on the
beaches of Kyushu. Then, in March 1946, they'd attack the major industrial
targets to the north, on Honshu.
The plans became a footnote
to history when President Truman approved dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima
Endicott was among the troops to occupy Japan
after the surrender. A retired public relations executive and broadcaster, he
lives in Hansville now and ponders the possibilities.
"Look at the time frame," he says. "If they
were going to attack Nov. 1, they'd have been staging the invasion off Okinawa.
On Oct. 8, a massive typhoon hit Okinawa, one of the worst ever recorded. If the
bombs had not been dropped, and if we had been poised there, the Navy would have
been devastated. We might not have won the war."
hopes to visit the unused invasion beaches some
"Can you imagine walking the beach you might have
walked 50 years ago and contemplating what might have happened
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