Katsuyuki Nagahisa was a 10-year-old boy playing in a school yard when he saw a "strange, mushroom-shaped cloud rising in the direction of Hiroshima."
Mr. Nagahisa who is the standing board member of Tokyo Federation of A-bomb Sufferers, addressed a group this weekend at the Morristown Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. He explained that he and his classmates "exchanged some words of wonder but casually spent the hot summer day without giving any speculation as to why there was such a huge cloud in the sky."
It would be four days before he and his father, in search of family members, would see the devastation caused by the atomic bomb that had been dropped on Hiroshima. Because of the wreckage, they were forced to disembark from the train headed for the city and traveled the rest of the way on foot.
The passage of 64 years appears to have done little to erode the memories of what the young boy witnessed that day.
"We passed ground zero and passed our grandmother's home in Dambara-Ohata District (2 kilometers from the epicenter), where I saw burned skeletal remains of a tram that ran through the area still standing on the railroad. A dead cart horse lying with his belly up under the scorching sun and the miles after miles of burnt ruins. On the other side of the tram line toward the Hijiyama mountain was left with nothing; everything had been crashed into bits and pieces by the bomb's blast."
Days later, he and his father were reunited with five family members who had been "horribly injured." It was not long before his grandmother and a cousin would die of the aftereffects of the radiation.
Remembering the three temples of Jodo Shin school of Buddhism and five Shinto shrines in his hometown, Mr. Nagahisa spoke of the "joy and excitement of attending their seasonal events and rituals" during his childhood.
"With this background," he shared, "I have had a number of opportunities to visit temples and shrines and attend their festival rites, and every time I am at a temple I pray for hardship. This is the prayer I am compelled to give out of unforgettable memories of the horrible devastation of Hiroshima."
Some may call this response a form of "survivors' guilt," but it may just be what drives Mr. Nagahisa to honor the lives lost, provide aid to survivors and work to abolish the weapon that was the catalyst for the horrific suffering.
Mr. Nagahisa explained, "I am driven to give such a prayer because I feel extremely happy for being alive and at the same time feel sorry for those who died on that day and after and those who continue to suffer from illness because of the bombing. I feel I have been given too much happiness and so I feel I should be given more hardship. I feel I should strive to live for the lost lives of other people."
"I do not mind taking the trouble of working hard if it is for the well-being and happiness of other A-bomb victims. Sixty-four years have passed since that summer but the bombing left an indelible memory to the childish mind and instilled me a strong sense of hatred and anger against nuclear weapons. We must not tolerate any kind of their production, possession or use."
Mr. Nagahisa's appearance was one of several along with a fellow Hibakusha (Japanese survivors of the bombings), Mr. Shigemitsu Tanaka, a Nagasaki survivor and standing board member of Nagasaki Council of A-bomb Sufferers. The events were organized by NJ Peace Action & the Aug. 9th Saving Lives Task Force and Seeds of Peace along with the Union County Peace Council.
Founded in 1957 in response to the growing nuclear arms race following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, NJ Peace Action is one of the nation's oldest grassroots disarmament groups. According to Madelyn Hoffman, executive director of NJ Peace Action, the Hibakusha will be meeting this week with Senator Frank Lautenberg's office to "share their hopes and dreams for U.S. policy on nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament."
Shigemitsu Tanaka was five years younger than Katsuyuki Nagahisa when the United States military dropped atomic bombs onto their homeland, but like Mr. Nagahisa his memory of the day and the years of pain that followed will never be forgotten.