Thursday, August 09, 2007

August 9

On 9 August 1945, a handful of US aircraft -- one of which carried an atomic weapon known as the “Fat Man” -- circled the Japanese city of Kokura, seven hours after lifting off from Tinian Island in the Northern Marianas. Kokura had been designated as the primary target for the second nuclear attack in human history, which would occur a mere three days after the first; fortunately for Kokura’s residents, a 40-minute delay midway through its flight prevented the armed Superfortress from arriving during clear weather. After three fruitless passes over the city, the crew of the Bockscar, having been ordered not to release their horrific payload unless they could visualize the target, moved on to its secondary destination at Nagasaki.

Clouds obscured that city as well. Without a break in the weather, the mission would have been truncated and “Fat Man” dumped into the Pacific. Shortly before noon, the clouds over Nagasaki parted momentarily. At 11:02 a.m., Kermit Beahan, bombardier for the Bockscar, celebrated his 27th birthday by releasing a weapon that -- 46 seconds later -- obliterated roughly 70,000 people and injured tens of thousands more. “The target was there,” Beahan later explained, “pretty as a picture. I made the run, let the bomb go. That was my greatest thrill.”

Less ebullient about the day’s events was Senji Yamaguchi, a fourteen-year-old boy who was digging a bomb shelter at the Mistubishi plant near the epicenter of the blast. Yamaguchi, who would later found one of the first organizations for atomic survivors, endured tremendous pain as he recovered at a naval hospital in Omura.
I was in a large room that had forty beds, but people were dying one after another, at a rate of four or five per day. I'd hear someone whisper, 'It looks like another one died,' followed by the rattling sound of a bed being pulled away. Then I would hear someone crying and I'd know for sure that another person had died. As my own wounds were on my head, from the face to the neck and upper body, I had many layers of bandages that had to be changed over and over. The pain I had when they would peel off two or three layers was so great that I couldn't think straight. By the time they came to wrapping on the new bandages, I had lost all my strength and felt like an empty shell. For about two hours I would be screaming because it was so painful, and then it would be time for another treatment. This was repeated over and over again. The gauze had been soaked in Lybanol and when it dried it would shrink up, forcing the burnt flesh up through the holes in the mesh. The treatment from the nurses at the naval hospital was rough. They would grab the edge of the gauze with tweezers and rip it right off, causing so much pain that I cried out, 'Just kill me!' over and over. Just hearing the call 'Treatment!' was enough to start some of the patients crying. If there was some way that experience could be replayed, exactly as it was and without hiding anything, I would really like everyone to see what it was like.
Twenty-four years after Yamaguchi was nearly incinerated, four members of Charles Manson’s “family” murdered Sharon Tate, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring and Steve Parent. The five were killed at 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles -- a house that had once been the home of actress Lillian Gish, whose opposition to US entry into World War II nearly ruined her career.

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