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Berger’s Burg: Two parachutes, then a blinding flash...

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In last week’s column, I described the story of a 6-year old Japanese girl in Nagasaki, Japan, during World War II. She succumbed to the effects of the atom bomb while in the hospital trying to fold 1,000 paper cranes in the hope of getting well.

The story of a second, 13-year-old youngster, continues:

The author, Jon Krakauer tells another story of a then 13-year-old boy, a “hibakusha” (atomic bomb victim), who recalled the horror today as an adult. On Aug. 9, while he was on a school trip, he heard air-raid sirens wailing throughout the city. He and the other children were led into an air-raid shelter. But, when no B-29s were sighted, the “All Clear” was sounded.

The young boy went out of the community bomb shelter with his schoolmates and they began walking back to school. Halfway there, they stopped for a drink of water from a roadside well. After finishing his drink, the boy instinctively looked up and noticed two parachutes floating down through an opening in the cloudy sky. Then he saw a blinding flash and a sky “filled with fire.” He was hurled across the road into a rice paddy.

“In that instant,” the boy said, “time seemed to slow down, like in a dream.” He remembered very clearly the sensation of flying through the air as he curled his body in an attempt to escape the intense heat and the impact of slamming into the ground.

When he regained consciousness, he looked down at his arms and saw that the skin had peeled off in sheets. It hung from his fingertips like a torn shirt. The exposed flesh was bright red with blood, but strangely, he experienced no pain, at first.

In shock, the boy thought that he merely had a minor burn. Curiously, his left profile was completely unmarked. However, on the other side, the entire right half of his face was left a matrix of purplish scar tissue and disfigured flesh.

He shudders when he recalls seeing all the people staggering down from the surrounding hillsides, groaning and screaming, crawling toward water. There were many small children crying for their parents. The boy noticed that people were charred to cinders. It was impossible to differentiate men from women. The river was choked with the corpses of people and animals piled atop one another in a most grotesque fashion.

One scene which has never left his thoughts was when he saw two of his fellow students passing by. One had two broken legs and was being carried by the other. The carrier's eyeballs were hanging down onto his cheeks. Most of the skin had been burned away and hanging in rags. His veins were pulsing in the exposed muscle. He collapsed and died immediately after delivering his injured schoolmate to the teacher.

Visitors to Nagasaki’s Hypocenter Park and the adjacent Atomic Bomb Museum can study graphic photographs of the destruction and contemplate such grim realities as a steel helmet cradling fragments of a skull, or the remains of a human hand fused inside a blob of glass. But, surprisingly, most Nagasaki residents do not harbor any resentment toward the Americans — only against war.

Beyond the borders of Japan, Nagasaki has received scant attention. It has become the forgotten Ground Zero, because Hiroshima was bombed first. But the destruction of Nagasaki was no less tragic. Within five years after the dropping of the bomb, at least 140,000 people died.

Ironically, the bittersweet Puccini opera “Madame Butterfly,” written years before, was set in Nagasaki.

Five decades later, the obelisk marking Ground Zero is shaded by tall, robust trees. Aside from a handful of prominent artifacts — eerie fragments of religious statuary; a famous church bell, rung morning and night, that somehow emerged from the devastation unscathed — there is little to alert the casual observer that not so very long ago Nagasaki lay in radioactive ruins.

Unfortunately, I could not find more specific details about the little girl of Hiroshima and her paper cranes, that I discussed last week. Suffice to say, the city displays thousands of colorful paper cranes which the residents say represents the prayers for victims of the atomic bomb. The story of the little girl will certainly continue to be told and retold by all who oppose war and nuclear weapons.

So, join Gloria and me in retelling it. Who knows? Perhaps this may help prevent a nuclear holocaust from ever happening again.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139

Posted 7:19 pm, October 10, 2011
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