Sixty years ago, on August 5, 1945, in Washington and August 6, in Japan, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It was the first of 2 U.S. nuclear attacks on Japan that hastened the end of World War II and set the stage for the post-war nuclear arms race.
In 1945, Tomiko Morimoto was a 13-year-old schoolgirl. She recalls feeling no particular fear when she and her classmates
heard the lone American B-29 bomber droning through the cloudless skies above Hiroshima. Her city had never been bombed, and she assumed the plane was simply on a reconnaissance mission, like the others she had seen.
Then she saw the flash. "You know how you see the bright sun that's going down on a very hot day? Bright red -- orange red. That's what it was like," she recalls. "After we heard a big noise like a 'BOONG!' 'BOONG!' Like that. That was the sound."
After the sound, she recalls, "everything started falling down; all the buildings started flying around all over the place. Then something wet started coming down, like rain. I guess that's what they call black rain. In my child's mind, I thought it was oil. I thought the Americans were going to burn us to death. And we kept running. And fire was coming out right behind us, you know."
Adults at the school led Tomiko and her classmates across the Motoyasu River to a plateau on the outskirts of Hiroshima, and told them to wait for family members to come get them. All night long, they watched their city burning below. The next morning, no parents had come, and the children were released to find their way home on their own. For Ms. Morimoto, that meant trying to find a bridge into the city that had not been destroyed.
She remembers seeing "dead people all over. All over! Particularly, I can remember… I saw a Japanese soldier that was still mounted right on his horse -- just dead! Also that a streetcar had stopped just at that moment [of the bomb] and the people still standing, dead."
Finally, Ms. Morimoto says she found a bridge she and her classmates could cross safely - a railroad bridge. She recalls looking down through the spaces between the railroad ties. Normally, one would see the river flowing there underneath. But she says, instead she saw "a sea of dead people. There was not one space for the water, just people lying there and dead."
Survivors she encountered begged for water. "Mainly, I just wanted to find my people. Finally -- finally! -- I reached home and of course my home was gone and I couldn't find anybody."
The only person who recognized Ms. Morimoto was a family hired man, who told her her grandparents had taken refuge with some neighbors in a certain nearby cave.
"And I found my grandmother and grandfather among them. Of course my grandfather was terribly hurt," she says. "He had glass lodged all over his back, bleeding. My grandmother, she wasn't hurt but she couldn't stand up from shock. My mother, I didn't find her for a week or so, and she was burned underneath a building. I hoped she died instantly."
Tomiko Morimoto now lives in rural, upstate New York. She says surviving the bombing of Hiroshima has made her appreciate even the smallest things. "I go out the first thing in the morning and look at the sky and the sun and I am very appreciative of everything I have right now. You don't always have that," she says. "I carry that [sad] emotion, yes, and when I talk about it, it comes back. And I just take my hand and I erase the picture from in my mind. And that's how I cope with it."
But she also lives with fear. "I'm always afraid as more countries have the atomic bomb. I fear the end of the world," she says. "I would say never let there be another bombing like that. We all have to work towards peace. That's the only way I can summarize it."
Ironically, Tomiko Morimoto is not among those who believe that American forces should never have dropped the atomic bomb. She believes that only a total unequivocal victory by the Allies would have convinced the Japanese population that their war effort was hopeless, that they must lay down their arms and try to move on.
Today, 60 years after the bomb fell on Hiroshima, we remember not only those who died in that war, but also those who lived.