“The B-29 are flying again,” Keijiro Matsushima, one of few survivors of the A-Bomb attack on Hiroshima, Japan, says. “They were beautiful, shining in the morning sun, with their silver white wings. Who knew that they were the messengers of hell?”
On Friday, Matsushima stood in front of a silent audience in the Durrell Center’s DC Bottoms telling his first-hand account of Aug. 6, 1945, the day that he survived one of the only two combat uses of the A-Bomb in human history.
Before he speaks, Matsushima looks around the room with a small smile on his face. This smile, despite what he has been through, looks more like an expression of gratitude for the gift of life he has been given.
His soft eyes seem to take in what most people take for granted, behind them are horrors that only a hand full of living humans have seen.
The 80-year-old Matsushima doesn’t look like what one would expect an A-Bomb survivor to look like. Physically, Matsushima shows no evidence of the bombing.
His scarring is deep down with memories that even 64 years later bring tears to his eyes.
“Whenever I think of these kids, I can’t stop the tears from falling,” Matsushima says about the children he saw driving to work near the hypocenter of the bomb earlier that morning.
At the time of the bombing, Matsushima, then 16, sat in his middle school class, located 2 kilometers south from the hypocenter of the bomb.
Matsushima shows the audience by pointing to a red circle on a map of Hiroshima that depicts where most of the casualties were.
Matsushima sat in the front row of his class that day.
“I couldn’t take a nap,” he says.
He looked outside and saw the two bombers flying over his city just before the bomb was dropped.
“I remember seeing the pine trees silhouetted in the frame of the window like a sunset,” Matsushima says of the point of impact in the center of the city. “Please try to imagine: heat, flash and explosion.”
Matsushima fell to the ground and dove under his desk covering his ears and eyes.
“It was so quiet at this time. No one screamed. No one yelled. No voices.”
The roof collapsed on top of the children and Matsushima managed to escape from the rubble.
Where people were at the exact moment the bomb connected with the earth was the difference between life and death, Matsushima says. Those who sat in the shadows of a room, building or tree as opposed to those who stood in direct light were more often spared from severe injury and death.
After the attack, the students exited the school in shock; none of them had any idea what had happened.
“Everyone thought, ‘they dropped the bomb beside me,’ you see, no one had any idea there was such a big bomb.”
Matsushima left Hiroshima shortly after by walking to his mother’s home outside of the city. He stayed there for the remainder of the war where he escaped prolonged exposure to the radiation.
Before the bomb fell, Matsushima dreamed of becoming an engineer.
“The A-Bomb changed my life,” Matsushima says.
Instead, he became an English teacher in 1946, and for 40 years he taught junior high in Japan. Matsushima, who still lives in Hiroshima today, has also spoken at many peace conferences throughout the years.
While telling his story, Matsushima didn’t preach. He simply spoke. He told his tale with the only purpose to keep the memory alive, so the youth of today will never forget.
“Young people have hope,” Matsushima says. “They can transmit the memory of the past.”
Matsushima believes that today’s youth can resist and help stop the creation of nuclear weapons.
“It was a mind-blowing experience,” freshmen biology major Kapila Pothu said of her time listening to the A-bomb survivor. “This sort of thing (the decision to use nuclear weapons) affects us all. It’s no one’s fault and everyone’s fault that so many people had to suffer.”
Students sat shocked after hearing Matsushima’s story.
“He had no hostile feelings toward Americans or American soldiers,” Pothu said.
“I just wanted to know what happened under that cloud,” sophomore business major Laura Luepschen said. “He spoke from his heart and said exactly how he felt.”
One by one, those who heard Matsushima speak made their way to him. They shook his hand, bowed, spoke to him in Japanese; some couldn’t even make words.
Matsushima listened patiently.
“I’m a shy man,” he says. “I’m not used to all this attention.”
Staff writer Matt Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.