Even at this date—on the sixty-sixth anniversary of the first use of the atomic bomb against a city—few Americans know that among the tens of thousands victims in Hiroshima were at least a dozen and perhaps more American prisoners of war. This was kept from the American people—even the families of the Americans—for decades, along with so much else related to the atomic bombings (as revealed in my new book).
At least twenty-three US servicemen were in Hiroshima when the bomb fell. They were prisoners of war, former aviators, held at several locations in downtown Hiroshima. It’s likely we would have never learned of this if a B-29 had not ditched off Japan two days after the Hiroshima attack, on August 8, 1945. Picked up by a fishing boat, the crew ended up on a drill field in devastated Hiroshima, bound by rope and blindfolded.
A Japanese police captain saved them from a mob by taking them to the suburb of Ujina. En route he stopped at the Hiroshima train station, removed their blindfolds, and according to Matin Zapf, one of the Americans who would survive), shouted, “Look what you have done! One bomb!”
One of the captured Americans recalled the “spooky ride” to Ujina: no houses standing, nothing moving, not even a dog, and the policeman yelling, “One bomb! One bomb!”
Along the way they came across two more American prisoners: a navy aviator and an Air Force sergeant. They were suffering from nausea, with green liquid dripping from their mouths and ears. Held in Hiroshima when the bomb hit, they had survived by jumping into a cesspool. Clearly, they were suffering from radiation disease, but no one at the time knew anything about it.
That night, as the pair screamed in pain in their cells—asking to be put out of their misery—the other Americans asked the Japanese doctors to do something. “Do something?” one of the doctors replied. “You tell me what to do. You caused this.” The two men died later that night.
Yet the death of American POWs was not acknowledged by the United States until the late 1970s. The Japanese have now added the names of the twelve dead soldiers to their official tally of those killed in the bombing (that's John Hantschel at above left), and mounted their photos in a museum photo gallery.
Three days after the Hiroshima blast, perhaps as many as a dozen Dutch POWs were killed in the bombing of Nagasaki. (See my new piece on U.S. ambassador Caroline Kennedy's meeting with survivors in Nagasaki.) One American soldier there, a Navajo from New Mexico, survived in his cell.
Greg Mitchell's new book and e-book is Atomic Cover-Up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org