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Hiroshima A-bomb survivor: Yoshinori Kato regrets failing to save the lives of trapped schoolchildren via The Japan Times

Words of regret run repeatedly through the mind of Yoshinori Kato: “I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.”

On Aug. 6, 1945, when the city of Hiroshima was hit by a U.S. atomic bomb, Kato, now 90 but who was 17 at the time, said he desperately tried to rescue children who were trapped under the collapsed building of Danbara National School (now Danbara Elementary School). However, he had no choice but to leave the children behind as raging fires closed in.

Before then, Kato was a first-year student at the Hiroshima Technical Institute (now Hiroshima University). But classes were suspended because of the war; instead, he was mobilized to work at the Kure Naval Arsenal, an assignment that lasted until July 1945.

[…]

Kato and his friends began walking toward his house. Along the way, they came across many survivors who were nearly naked and had bloated faces. “No one really knew what happened,” he said.

Fire was blazing so fiercely around his house that he could not approach it. Suddenly, a man — a teacher from Danbara National School — grasped him by the hand. When Kato reached the school, he saw seven or eight children trapped under the collapsed school building. There were flames right above them.

Kato and his friends tried to pull them out, but they cried out in pain because their bodies were wedged inside the wreckage. He told them to hold on. “We didn’t want to give up, but the fire was merciless. In the end, I gave some water to a girl then had to leave her.”

Kato and his friends were able to save only one child. “When we arrived at the (school’s) East Drill Ground, we were in a complete daze,” he said.

Before dusk fell, he began walking toward his house through a garden called Sentei (now known as Shukkeien Garden). It was hell. “There were countless bodies, their heads in the pond,” he said. He followed the river, which had little water in it, until the Kyobashi Bridge, and there he came across his aunt.

[…]

Thinking that he should tell people what happened to the students at Danbara National School, Kato drew pictures of them based on his memories. Around 30 years after the atomic bombing, he began offering prayers at the elementary school on Aug. 6, though he did not tell anyone about it.

Half a century after the bombing, he sent a letter to the school, describing his experience, then started sharing his account with the students there. To remember the victims, he donated a statue of Jizo, the guardian of children, and had it placed at the site where he could not save their lives.

Due to his advancing age, this year he had to stop speaking to students about his experience. “But if children pass on my account to the generations that follow, I think the victims will be pleased,” he said, placing his hands together in prayer for a world where no more lives will be lost in such a way.

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