Hiroshima Bombing Survivors Reflect on the Tragedy via U.S.News

Yoshie Nordling is a survivor of one of only two nuclear bombs used in warfare.

By KATHERINE JONES, Idaho Statesman

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Yoshie Nordling is a survivor of one of only two nuclear bombs used in warfare. She was 12 years old when Americans dropped a 9,000-pound atomic weapon on Hiroshima.

For a long time, she didn’t talk about her childhood. “I just upset myself,” she says. But she’s 84 years old, and now it’s time to tell her story. In part because of her age. And in part because, given current events, she would rather that there be no more nuclear bombs added to the list.

She is not an activist. She is a survivor. She doesn’t cast blame. Japan was at war and what did they think would happen, she says. “I’m not saying your fault or my fault, I am just saying what happened.”


“Teenagers have a lot of burns,” says Tanaka. “I was used to seeing them. … Can you imagine? Face half-torn, half-melted?”

She remembers older girls going to church with her, praying beside her — and then noticing that they gradually stopped coming. “Later on,” she says, “I realized they had died.”

But people never discussed the bomb — or the wounds or the illnesses or the disappearing friends. “We don’t talk about it,” says Tanaka. “Try to be polite, I think.”

Her sister says, “I don’t want to remember. That’s probably part of it.”


Tanaka took her daughter back to Japan a few years ago, to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. “It felt just terrible,” she says. The household items in particular — the nuclear fusions of porcelain and glass melted into heaps — reminded her of the playthings she found in her backyard as a girl. The artifacts now felt ugly and sad. “It’s almost like you don’t want to see it anymore, because it’s too much.”

In the museum, there’s the image of a kimono design imprinted on a woman’s body from the nuclear flash. A child-size bicycle burned and forlorn. Ragged clothing. A watch with its hands permanently frozen at 8:15 a.m.; a clump of melted coins. Nearly 200,000 people dead, instantly and in the aftermath.

Their mother’s auntie, whose face was burned by radiation, told Tanaka that every time she went to the museum, she re-lived her fear and the memories would haunt her dreams. She won’t go any more.


Perhaps it’s not fair to expect the survivors of such horrific devastation to become fierce advocates for changing what sometimes does seem so inevitable. They survived; they did their work. But is inevitable true? Does it have to be true?

Tanaka remembers, as a little girl, going to a bus stop where once, on a pretty August morning, someone waited. The ferocity of the blast created permanent, eerie shadows of someone incinerated — human beings, once living their lives, imprinted on the sidewalk. “His shadow is still there waiting for the bus,” she says.

Shadows waiting for humanity to remember. Tanaka pauses.

“Bitterness and sad and suffering — too long, don’t you think?”


Nordling returned to school, where a doctor was working with patients. “I see the people who had the burn and the skin came off, hanging,” she says; she stood there, stunned.

“(The doctor) shouted, ‘Don’t stand there like a fool, come over and help.’ So I did. I don’t know what I actually did; I know I did what the doctor told me to do.” Hundreds of people found their way to the clinic.

“That time I said, well, this is hell.”


“What good is it to talk about it? I don’t think it gains anything.”

Nordling is pragmatic. “Some countries, some people desperate with something — that causes war,” she says, and that lands her in a less-than-optimistic spot. “Nothing we can do about it.”

Is that true, too? It is hard to comprehend the devastation the sisters saw and survived, and easy enough to understand their reluctance to revisit their pain.

But on the other hand — if other people don’t ask questions and we don’t listen to their stories — are we in danger of forgetting, too? Forgetting that underneath the threats of political leaders are real, live people? Who do pay the price — for any war, nuclear or not?

Read more at Hiroshima Bombing Survivors Reflect on the Tragedy 

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