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Tears of a survivor of Hiroshima

Apocalypse: Keiko Ogura talks about the harrowing aftermath of the atomic bombing. Pankaj Vohra writes.
By Pankaj Vohra | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON NOV 03, 2012 08:47 PM IST

Keiko Ogura was just eight years old when the Hiroshima atomic bombing took place on August 6th, 1945. The memory of that fateful morning has continued to haunt her for nearly 70 years. The trauma remains undiminished. She has been having nightmares for all her waking years, which continue to remind her of the bombing that claimed more than 140,000 lives that year and left thousands to combat the aftermath of nuclear devastation.

Two occasions in the last decade made Ogura, now the representative of the Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace, relive the worst moments of her life. The first was in late December, 2003 when, during a visit to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, she saw at close quarters the Enola Gay, the B-29 Bomber that released the “Little Boy’’, as the Atom Bomb was code named, at 8.15 a.m. on August 6th, 1945. The little girl in her took over and she screamed in full public view. While friends tried to console her, many Americans demanded to know why she had come to Washington as they believed the bombing was justified.

When her son in Tokyo saw his wailing mother’s photograph splashed on the front page of a leading newspaper, he did not know how to react. Children of many nuclear bomb victims rarely spoke about their plight due to fear of discrimination. Many survivors could only bring themselves to speak about their experiences after their daughters had delivered their first child.

The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster last year also took Ogura back in time. The images had a striking resemblance to the harrowing scenes she witnessed after the bomb exploded 580 metres above the ground raising temperature to a meltdown degree and flattening many structures.

Naturally, Keiko Ogura is a fanatical opponent of the use of nuclear power and spends most of her time giving visitors from across the world accounts of that horrific morning. Earlier this week, she acquainted students from Delhi’s Modern School, Vasant Vihar with the events. Recently, she also shared a meal with Clifton Truman Daniel, the grandson of President Harry Truman who ordered the nuclear strike on Japan, and Ari Beser, the grandson of then Lt. Jacob Beser who controlled the radar on both the US atomic missions to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Beser is currently working on a book on the atomic bombing.

Ogura says she survived the bombing as her house was over two kilometers from the hypocenter and her father, having had a premonition, had not send her to school on that life-altering day. She experienced the blinding flash of light and the tremendous blast that followed it on what was a very fine and sunny morning. There was fire all around and most of the buildings collapsed. Her family were inside and so survived the impact. “Black rain started to fall and I could feel the sticky brown patch on my skin, which refused to be rubbed off. My clothes had black spots and I could see people outside scurrying for shelter as the skin peeled off from their bones due to the heat generated by the blast. Many asked for water and I gave them some from a well. However, they died soon afterwards. I held myself responsible for their deaths as I believed they had died because they drank the water I gave them. I bore the guilt for years.” She said that those who saw the mushroom clouds after the bombing were a further away as those who were directly impacted could not have taken in the visual. Her brother, who was working at a railway site, told her about the pink light that came after the flash and before the mushroom cloud went up. He escaped being blinded by the flash as his eyes were fixed on the Enola Gay as it changed its course. The quivering chin and moistened eyes of Keiko Ogura, the Survivor of Hiroshima, speak of an experience that mankind should not have to go through ever again.

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