America pulled the nuclear trigger first, lest we forget. On August 6, 1945, sixty-two years ago today, the mushroom cloud under which everyone on earth since that day has lived, first rose. Personally, I think that it is truly the day above all days that lives in infamy, but I know there other opinions and that’s not what I’m here to write about anyway. If you’d like to know more about the specifics, here’s a thorough and interesting link to historical information about this event: Atomic Anniversaries.
As a new pastor in the town I live in now, I began visiting church members soon after arriving here four years ago. One of my standard questions of people over 80 or so, concerns their lives during World War Two. I’ve found that most former service men and women who were at one time reluctant to talk about that part of their lives, are ready and anxious to now. Unfortunately, not many people ask them anymore.
I asked Bill (a pseudonym) about his memories of that war, once I knew he was a Navy veteran of the War. He didn’t answer. After a few seconds, I realized he couldn’t answer. Men are reluctant sometimes to display their emotions to other men, and it is particularly hard for men of that age. I said, “It’s something people like me need to hear, Bill.”
That’s a practiced response. First of all, it’s true; the stories of those soldiers do need to be heard. Secondly, I didn’t want to stop what I knew Bill wanted to say, by saying something stupid and destructive like, “It’s OK if you don’t want to talk about it.” That’s insulting. It would have been, in effect, my saying to Bill that he was making me uncomfortable, now let’s go and talk about football scores or anything that will keep me from hearing the lump in your throat. Third, these old veterans want someone who will listen. They are all- all of them- dragging around 60 year old chains of unspoken memories and, as they get older, those chains have gotten heavier. Our ears and our hearts, sincerely open, can be cutting torches.
Bill began, finally, after a cough or two and a tightening of his jaw, “I was in Hiroshima the day after. I was part of a detail to assess the damage and take pictures.
“It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”
And then he stopped talking and began to cry. And I let him. I cried with him, in fact, for whatever the memories were that were being made fresh again.
“I’m sorry,” he said several times.
“You aren’t allowed to apologize for being human around me,” I told him. After a minute or two, Bill started talking again, and kept talking for almost half of an hour. He described bodies, melted into bed frames. He told about chasing dogs and rats away from bodies and parts of bodies. He told of screams coming from everywhere and that his Japanese translator told him that many of those screams were people pleading to be killed.
When Bill was finished he was very composed. It was like the calm one feels after throwing up, and that’s exactly what Bill had just done. He was drained but relieved; exhausted but calm. Bill’s wife had brought him a glass of water and he sat now with his head tilted back against his chair.
“Do you think we should have done it?” I asked finally.
He shook his head. ‘No.’
(U.S.Government Archives, Hiroshima)