Mum and Dad would invite girls my age, always two at a time for company, to come to our house on weekends. Incredibly shy, they'd eat every bite of whatever we served (whether by personal choice or by order of the orphanage director), giggle at Cappy and watch amazed as I taught them how to bounce on the beds. (In the orphanage they slept on futon over hard wooden floors.) Mum and Dad even tried to adopt one of the little girls but we had to give up. There was too much red tape.
During the week Dad studied children like those orphans at the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission. When the first nuclear bomb ever dropped on people exploded, civilians died with the soldiers. In fact civilian deaths outnumbered military ones. Housewives, schoolchildren, babies, the unborn. The nuclear bomb didn't discriminate. (Three days later, it happened all over again in Nagasaki but scientists only studied survivors of Hiroshima. Being second didn't count.)
ABCC, established in 1946, began as a five-man commission whose first research program was a hematological study. By 1950, it had expanded to include studies on radiation cataracts, leukemia and other cancers, survivors' aging and mortality rates, sex ratios of survivors' offspring and genetics.
ABCC was where Daddy would be seeing Japanese children every day, measuring their height and weight, taking their blood and photographing each one naked, facing the camera. (On the film their eyes were blocked out, for modesty.)
He would study 4,800 children over the next three years. Those were, of course, just the children who had survived. Many more had been killed and some of those Dad examined would develop symptoms years later and die of the residual effects of their exposure to radiation.
Dad's three years of research indicated that children exposed to radiation don't grow as tall as their counterparts, experience more fatigue and are more susceptible to disease, particularly leukemia and other kinds of cancer. Strontium-90, a product of nuclear fission, is a "bone seeker," just as calcium is, and tends to deposit in bone and blood-forming tissue (bone marrow). Instead of building bone, however, the radiation deteriorates it and can cause bone cancer, cancer of nearby tissues, and leukemia. So the growing children Dad examined were showing abnormally high incidences of thyroid cancer.
Dad studied the physical effects of the atomic bomb on the bodies of survivors and became one of the world's leading experts on radiation. But it didn't occur to any of us--until years later, when Mum crept back to Hiroshima, bruised and shattered by divorce, to pour the love of God into their lives--to ask the real experts, "What was it like to live through an nuclear explosion?"
|Mum and me fasting in front of the Children's Peace Monument|
The statue to the left is dedicated to the memory of the children who died of fatal doses of radiation from the first nuclear bomb. It shows a girl with outstretched arms, a folded paper crane rising above her, representing Sadako Sasaki.
Sadako was a two-year old in her mother's arms in 1945 when she was exposed to the atomic bomb. She had no external wounds or burns. Ten years later, she developed leukemia and other symptoms of "A-bomb disease"and died within eight months.
A brief biography, Memories of Sadako: Three months with Sadako at the Doorway to Adolescence, was written by Kiyo Okura, who was exposed to the bomb herself at the age of four and was also hospitalized with radiation poisoning ten years later. Kiyo Okura was sick for six months, survived the disease and lived until 2008.
(Modified from His Scribe, May 17, 2010)