“The Complete Story of Sadako Sasaki”
As the battles escalated, many areas ofJapan were bombed. Early in the war, most conflicts happened at sea, away from civilians. But as the Japanese troops were increasingly cornered, the bombings moved inland. Civilians were often injured or killed.
All bombs are designed to destroy. In Japan, the destruction of cities was especially severe. Japanese homes were usually made of wood and paper, which easily caught fire and quickly burned down after the bombs hit. Despite efforts to clear paths and make spreading fires less destructive, the embers from these fires blew across the cities, and entire neighborhoods were often left in ruins. Defeat soon felt imminent to many Japanese.
Tokyo was heavily damaged, and 80,000 to 100,000 people had been killed by the bombs dropped there. With few places left to sleep and very little to eat, everyone in Tokyo was frightened.
Meanwhile, in the United States, an even more powerful bomb was being developed. Called the “atomic bomb,” it was designed to blow up and burn down entire cities all at once. It also delivered and spread radiation, a horrific side effect. Radiation can’t be seen, but it is catastrophic and deadly. Sometimes, radiation immediately kills living things, including plants, animals, and people. Sometimes, it takes its toll later.
By August 1945, Fujiko was increasingly anxious. Hiroshima was one of the few major cities in Japan that had not been heavily bombed. The Americans were flying bomber airplanes over the city almost every night. But they never dropped their explosive cargo on Hiroshima.
Each time the bombers flew overhead, the air raid sirens sounded, alerting citizens that enemy planes were in the sky. Everyone could hear the alarms and took cover until the “all clear” signal rang out. For many weeks, each time the air raid warning sounded, the city was spared. Some
residents began to grudgingly call the bomber planes “Mr. B,” and lived in fear and awe of the giant flying beasts.
Soon rumors flew through the city that Hiroshima would be next and that the Americans had special plans for it. Many residents began to move their most precious belongings to safe zones, hoping they would be spared when the bombing came. Others started sleeping at night in nearby cities, or evacuating altogether, hoping to escape what they feared would happen.
Government officials issued orders to destroy many buildings in the center of the city, focusing on private homes near important public offices or military facilities. They hoped to create firebreaks, which would keep fires contained, and minimize damage from incoming bombs to these critical structures. The people who lived in these homes marked for demolition were forced to move out and had to find new places to live.
Early in the morning of August 6, 1945, air raid alarms rang through Sadako’s city, alerting the population that an
enemy aircraft was overhead. The people of Hiroshima rushed from their homes and took cover. But like so many times before, the plane passed, and no bombs rained down. The people of Hiroshima did not know the aircraft overhead was only checking weather conditions and sending reports by radio back to the generals in charge of the real mission ahead.
When the “all clear” signal rang out, Sadako took Masahiro’s hand, and along with all the other residents of Hiroshima, left the air raid shelter. Life went back to normal for the moment. Sadako and Masahiro sat down for breakfast, and the people of Hiroshima got ready for their day.
While life resumed in the city that morning, three B-29 bomber planes from the United States were heading toward Hiroshima as the sun rose. One plane carried instrumentation needed for the mission. Another was along to take photographs. The third plane, called the Enola Gay, carried a single bomb, an atomic bomb. The Americans called it “Little Boy.” After hearing that the weather conditions were perfect from the pilot who had flown over the city earlier, the Americans were now on a mission. The mission was to drop "Little Boy" on Hiroshima.
As the Sasaki family sat down for breakfast that morning, they heard yelling in the street. Masahiro, Sadako, and their mother dashed outside. Their neighbors were looking up at the sky and shouted in surprise.
“Look at that!” “What is it?”
“It’s really shiny, isn’t it?”
“It’s so pretty!”
Fujiko pointed upward in wonder. Masahiro shouted, “That must be an American plane!” They all gazed into the sky.
Sadako’s grandmother was not interested in the airplane. “Get back in the house and finish your breakfast,” she said. “It’s time to eat!” The children and their mother left the gathering crowd in the street.
While Fujiko, Masahiro, and Sadako removed their shoes near the door before hurrying back inside to finish their breakfast, dozens of sparkling, radiant lights twinkled and hung in the early morning air, filling the sky with a magical sparkle, unlike anything they had ever seen before. The beautiful brilliance of the glistening lights overhead transfixed the crowd.
Just as the family sat down at the table, the city lit up with what seemed like the brightness of a thousand suns, followed immediately by an enormous explosion. It sounded like everything in their world was being destroyed. The atomic bomb exploded 600 meters above the ground and blanketed the city with intense heat. A powerful wind swept through the Sasakis’ neighborhood and knocked over everything in its path. The tatami mats that covered their floors lifted and spun in the air. Bicycles resting in front of their two-story house were suddenly in the backyard. Their home was flattened, their possessions demolished. Nearly every house in sight either collapsed or was on fire or both. Surface temperatures at the hypocenter escalated to 3,000°C to 4,000°C. (The surface temperature of the sun is 5, 700°C; iron melts at 1,500°C.) Ceramic tile roofs boiled. Debris rained from the sky.
Sadako was blown into the yard when the house exploded. The rest of the family was trapped under the falling tatami mats and debris from the remains of their home. As Fujiko dug herself out of the ruins, she heard Sadako crying. She rushed toward the cries and found her sitting on a tangerine crate, which moments earlier
had been on the second floor of their home. Sadako, unharmed but frightened, was sobbing uncontrollably.
Fujiko soon found Masahiro and their grandmother buried beneath the rubble. Masahiro suffered a cut on his head. But it was minor, and he was otherwise fine. All of them were in shock, but safe!
As they collected themselves in the midst of the debris, they wondered what to do. Masahiro looked around for the neighbors that had gathered moments earlier to watch the sparkling lights falling from the sky. They were nowhere to be seen. The Sasaki family saw nothing they recognized. The houses all around them, along with many of their neighbors and all of their belongings, had simply vanished into mounds of unrecognizable ruins.
The family was in shock and, for the moment, unable to fully understand what was happening, overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells around them.
As an enormous cloud rose and loomed in the sky over Hiroshima, fire whipped through the streets. The intense heat melted the glass and iron remnants from the homes into smoldering lumps. Bodies were scattered everywhere among the shattered houses. Some residents that survived were unable to move because of their injuries. Others were trapped by debris and could not move. Everyone was in a state of shock, not fully understanding what they were experiencing or where to turn for help.
As the flames engulfed the debris, those that were able were running, walking, and crawling to escape the growing inferno. Those still alive but unable to move were crying out from under the debris. But there was nothing anyone could do to save them. Fujiko knew they must evacuate.
Sadako and Masahiro looked in the direction of Hiroshima Castle as their mother took them by their hands. They were stunned to see that the castle was not there. The shock waves from the bomb had destroyed the castle tower, and almost everything else, as far as the eye could see.
“We have to get away from the fire!” exclaimed Fujiko. “The river! We must go to the river.” Shigeo had promised that if ever there was an emergency, he would meet them at Oshiba Park, their neighborhood rescue center. But with everything in flames, the road was impassable. Fujiko knew they must head toward water to survive.
She grabbed a few barber tools from the rubble of their home and tucked them in her pocket. She hoped that with these, her fam切might be able to make a small living somewhere in the future. She abandoned everything else.
As the four of them desperately ran away to the river, Sadako’s grandmother suddenly turned back. “I forgot some things the children need,” she said. “And I must find the ihai for Grandpa. I can’t leave without it.” Fujiko pleaded for her to stay
with them and forget about the remembrance tablet for Grandpa. But Sadako’s grandmother turned and headed back home, walking toward the increasingly fierce flames. She promised to meet them later at the park. This moment was the last time they would ever see her alive.
The heat intensified as they walked. The roads were no longer easily passable. Only debris fields remained. Adding to their challenge, they were without their shoes, as was everyone emerging from their homes, making it very difficult to get to safety.
Enormous columns of dust, debris, and heat rose from the ground. The flames became like a tornado and extended many kilometers into the sky above the city. All around were the wailing cries of those suffering. Fujiko shielded her children as best she could so they would not be burned by the fires or trampled by the fleeing crowd.
Sadako clung to her mother as they neared the river. There, Fujiko noticed that a neighborhood acquaintance was coming toward her, rowing a small boat. He shouted to Fujiko to get on board. Fujiko was hesitant. But she saw no other option. Surely they would die if they did not escape the heat.
The boat was scorched by the intense heat rays which had burned a hole in its bottom, allowing water to flow into the tiny hull. When Fujiko and the two children got on board, river water gushed into the boat through the hole, causing the boat to nearly sink. All around them on the river bank, hideously burnt people of all ages clutched at their throats and begged for help. “Please also help the others!” pleaded Fujiko. “Let them get on board!”
“I want to help everyone,” the neighbor cried in anguish. “But now we have to think of a way to save only those that can survive.” Fujiko was stricken with heartbreaking grief.
Shocked, injured, and terrified neighbors filled the river bank. Dead bodies floated like duckweed in the river. The little boat drifted far away from the shoreline. The sounds of death and destruction slowly retreated. The boat carrying Fujiko and her children bobbed along in stunned silence. Black soot and rain started to fall on their heads. Fujiko covered Masahiro’s and Sadako’s eyes, trying to protect them from the horrifying sights.
For hours they floated, hoping the heat would lift, and the ash would settle. People on the shore cried out as they passed. “Hey! Let me on the boat!” “I’m begging you! Let me on the boat!” they pleaded. Many of those asking for help were severely injured or burned. Many were children as young as Sadako. Fujiko was tormented by her inability to help. But nothing could be done. The man steering the boat knew that if he took on any more passengers, the boat would sink and they would all die.
Even without more passengers, the boat, damaged by the bombing, began to fill with water leaking in through the hole in the hull. “Bail the water out!” he shouted. “Bail the water out, if you’re able!”
Sadako and Masahiro, along with their mother, desperately began to bail the water from the bottom of the boat. Sadako scooped with her small hands and threw the water overboard as quickly as she could, but only managed a few drops at a time. Her mother shouted, "Dog paddle, like this!" The children bent down as their mother showed them and began to paddle the water in great waves out of the boat, helping to keep it afloat.
Exhausted and terrified, Sadako looked up as the sky darkened and then went pitch black.Rain began to fall. Black, sticky rain, like coal tar, poured down, covering her face and body. She did not know the rain was filled with radioactive soot and debris from the bomb. She just knew she was terrified. Sadako’s tiny body trembled without stopping. Her teeth chattered. Her lips turned
blue. Sadako was colder than she had ever felt and more terrified than words could ever describe.
As the fire ran out of fuel and weakened, the boat headed for the shore, dodging the floating bodies and mangled debris that littered the river. When the boat reached land, Fujiko began to help the injured as she was able. But their
acquaintance, the boatman, shouted, "Go! Do not stop to help them or you will end up like them. Save yourself and your children!" Fujiko took Sadako and Masahiro in her arms, shielded them from the falling rain, and headed for the rescue center at Oshiba Park, leaving the others behind.
When Fujiko and her two children finally reached their destination, conditions were no better. Oshiba Park had been devastated by the intense rays of heat and enormous blast. Only small, leafless trees remained standing. The blackrain did not let up, filling the skies and blanketing the wounded and suffering. Fujiko, Sadako, and Masahiro had nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help.
Fujiko searched the park for the children’s grandmother and her husband, Shigeo. The scene was so wretched that the children covered their eyes in horror. Everyone was looking for help. Victims staggered through the crowd, many covered in blood. Some had their skin hanging from their bodies in sheets. Others had shards of debris piercing their torsos and limbs. Many desperately needed medical attention.
Another group of survivors arriving at the park had passed a small farm along the way. They noticed the pumpkins in the field, exposed to the tremendous heat, had cooked on the vine. They collected the pumpkins and shared the small
harvest with others gathered at the park.
Cries of pain were heard everywhere, and even some loud voices of anger. Fujiko shouted above them, “Is Shigeo Sasaki here? Is Matsu Sasaki here?” She heard no response as she called out for her husband and mother in law.