When the Sun Turned Black: 70 Years Ago at Nagasaki

An excerpt from "A Song for Nagasaki: The Story of Takashi Nagai, Scientist, Convert, and Survivor of the Atomic Bomb" (Ignatius Press, 2009), by Fr. Paul Glynn, S.M.

Major “Chuck” Sweeney had an extremely risky takeoff before dawn, loaded as he was with the 4.5-ton A-bomb, “Fat Man”. Now they were over their primary target, Kokura. He had made three runs over the hopelessly clouded city when he made a shocking discovery: the auxiliary gasoline pipe was blocked. Unless they dropped the bomb soon, they would never get home. He turned his plane southwest for the secondary target, “Nagasaki, urban area”.

His B-29 was over Shimabara just before 11 A.M. A radio announcer saw this and excitedly broadcast a warning, and Nagasaki people who heard him ran for their shelters. Moments later, Sweeney and his crew saw Nagasaki right below them through a cloud break, immediately recognizing the Urakami River and the Matsuyama Sports Ground. That put them almost two miles northwest of the planned drop, but time had run out. Bombardier Kermit released the bomb. It was just 11 A.M. when Fat Man went plummeting down onto the city of two hundred thousand souls, of whom more than seventy thousand would die, many without a trace. Inside the Urakami Cathedral, Fathers Nishida and Tamaya were hearing confessions again after the all-clear. The cathedral was only a third of a mile from where Fat Man detonated and was reduced to rubble in an instant. No one would be sure how many perished inside.

Less than two miles away from the cathedral, Chimoto-san was working on his rice paddy on Mount Kawabira. He heard a noise, looked up and saw a B-29 emerging from the clouds. It disgorged a huge black bomb, and he threw himself to the ground. He waited a minute. Then came an awful penetrating brightness, followed by eerie stillness. He looked up and gasped at the huge pillar of smoke, swelling grotesquely as it rose. Suddenly he realized that a hurricane was rushing toward him. Houses, buildings, trees were being cut down before his startled eyes as if by some enormous, invisible bulldozer. Then came a deafening roar, and he was hurled like a matchbox into the stone wall sixteen feet behind. Shaken to his very soul, he gaped at the pines, chestnuts and camphor laurels torn from the ground or broken off at the trunks. Even the grass was gone!

Midori’s nineteen-year-old cousin Sadako Moriyama had just found her two small brothers chasing dragonflies in the Yamazato school yard. She told them their mother wanted them. At that moment, she heard the plane and ran with them to the school shelter. As they entered, they were picked up and hurled to the far wall, and she blacked out. Coming to, she heard the two children whimpering at her feet and wondered why it was so dark. As a little light began to penetrate the gloom, she was paralyzed with terror. Two hideous monsters had appeared at the shelter’s entrance, making croaking noises and trying to crawl in. As the darkness lifted a little, she saw they were human beings who had been outside when the bomb exploded. In less than seconds, they had been skinned alive, half a mile from the epicenter, and their raw bodies had been picked up and smashed into the side of the shelter.

She went outside. The light was weak, as if it were barely dawn. She cried aloud when she saw beside the sandbox four children, without clothes or skin! She stood there transfixed, her eyes involuntarily drinking in the hideous details. The skin of their hands had been torn away at the wrists and hung from their fingernails, looking like gloves turned inside out.

Feeling she was losing her reason, she dashed back into the shelter, accidentally brushing the two victims still squirming and moaning near the entrance. Their bodies felt like potatoes gone rotten. Their horrible animal croaking sound began again. She realized they were saying something. Mizu, mizu. Water, water. That cry was to run like a cracked record in the nightmares of Nagasaki survivors for years.

Michiko Ogino was ten years old and enjoying the summer holidays at home. Just after 11 A.M. she was terrified by a giant lightning flash, followed by a horrendous roar, and within seconds she was one of the thousands pinned under the roofs or walls of their homes. The blast of the bomb caused air to rush from the epicenter at over a mile a second, knocking houses flat. Almost immediately, an equally violent wind rushed back into the vacuum left at the epicenter.

Michiko was hopelessly pinned there, but her screaming brought a stranger who freed her. Outside, she was startled to see evil-looking clouds that twisted and writhed and blackened out the sun. ‘What kind of new lightning had done this? Then she became conscious of a tiny voice becoming hysterical. It was her two-year-old sister trapped under a crossbeam. She turned for help and saw dashing toward them a naked woman, her body greasy, and purple like an eggplant, and her hair reddish brown and frizzled. Oh no! It was Mother! The speechless Michiko could only point to her sister under the beam. The mother looked wildly at the fires that had already started, dived into the rubble, put her shoulder under the beam and heaved. The two-year-old was free, and the mother, hugging her to her breast, collapsed onto the ground. There was no skin left on the shoulder that she had put under the beam, just raw bleeding meat. Michiko’s father appeared, badly burnt too. He watched in dumb helplessness as his wife groaned and struggled to rise. Then all her strength ebbed away, and she collapsed, dead.

Nagasaki was now burning, and Sakue Kawasaki sat in disbelief inside the Aburagi air-raid shelter. He could see people staggering about outside, naked and swollen like pumpkins. Then came a babel of croaking voices piteously begging for mizu, mizu, but where could he get water? There was a puddle of dirty water outside the entrance to the shelter, and one of the victims crawled over, lowered his lips into it and drank with succulent noises. He tried to crawl to the shelter but collapsed and stopped moving. One by one, the others drank from the puddle and crumpled up motionless. What terrible thirst could drive men to act like demented lemmings?

The plutonium-239 bomb exploded in Nagasaki with the equivalent force of twenty-two thousand tons of conventional explosives but with vast differences. Setting aside for the moment the A-bomb’s lethal radiation, there was its intense heat, which reached several million degrees centigrade at the explosion point. The whole mass of the huge bomb was ionized and a fireball created, making the air around it luminous, emitting ultraviolet rays and infrared rays and blistering roof tiles farther than half a mile from the epicenter. Exposed human skin was scorched up to two and a half miles away. Electric light poles, trees and houses within two miles were charred on the surface facing the blast. The velocity of the wind that rushed out from the epicenter was more than one mile per second, sixty times the velocity of a major cyclone. This caused a vacuum at the epicenter, and another cyclone rushed back. in, picking up acres of dust, dirt, debris and smoke that darkened the writhing mushroom cloud.

Young Kata-san was walking his cow on a hillside outside Oyama, five miles south of the epicenter. He was startled by the flash and watched, rooted to the spot, as a huge white cloud rose up like a grotesque organism fattening itself by some weird magic. The cloud was white on the outside but fired by some hideous red energy within. Then came alternating flashes of red, yellow and purple. Gradually the cloud went into a mushroom shape, and a black. stain grew on its stem. When the cloud reached a great height, it burst open and collapsed like an obscene grub that had gorged on more than its stomach could hold. The mountains all around were lit by the sun, but the area below the cloud was shrouded in darkness. Then came Kato’s second shock, a roar of wind so strong that Kato mistook it for another bomb exploding nearby.

A Song for Nagasaki: The Story of Takashi Nagai – Scientist, Convert, and Survivor of the Atomic Bomb
by Paul Glynn, S.M. 
Foreword by Shusaku Endo
Ignatius Press, 2009.
Paperback, 267 pages.

Related at CWR: August 9, 1945: Our Lady of Sorrows, Takashi Nagai and “A Song for Nagasaki” by K. V. Turley (Aug. 8, 2015)

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