January 13, 2010 by

Tsutomu Yamaguchi

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Categories: Extraordinary People

Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only person who was ever officially recognized as a survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings at the end of World War II, died on Jan. 4 of stomach cancer. He was 93.
Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip for his employer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, on Aug. 6, 1945. The 29-year-old oil tanker designer was stepping off a tram when the U.S. B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped a 13-kiloton uranium atomic bomb on the city. The massive explosion destroyed Yamaguchi’s left eardrum, temporarily blinded and balded him and left serious burns on his upper body. Others were not so fortunate; at least 70,000 people died as a result of the initial blast.
After spending the night in a bomb shelter, Yamaguchi returned to his home in Nagasaki. He spent two days recuperating from his injuries, then covered his body in gauze and went to work. As Yamaguchi was explaining what had happened in Hiroshima to his boss, the U.S. B-29 bomber Bock’s Car released its destructive payload, this time on Nagasaki. According to the Nagasaki City Atomic Bomb Records Preservation Committee, the explosion killed more than 73,800 people.
Yamaguchi survived again.
Twelve years after the war ended, Yamaguchi was recognized as a hibakusha, an explosion-affected person, of the Nagasaki bombing. Certification as an atomic bomb survivor qualified him for government compensation, including a monthly stipend, free medical checkups and funeral costs. It would take another 52 years until the Japanese government officially recognized his presence in Hiroshima.
About 260,000 people survived the atomic bomb attacks on Japan, and many of them suffered the effects from radiation exposure. Yamaguchi’s wife suffered radiation poisoning from the black rain that fell after the Nagasaki explosion; she died in 2008 of kidney and liver cancer. All three of Yamaguchi’s children also suffered from health problems.
After Japan surrendered, Yamaguchi worked as a ship engineer in the local port, a translator for the occupying American forces and a schoolmaster. In the final years of his life, he wrote a memoir and appeared in the 2006 documentary “Twice Bombed, Twice Survived: The Doubly Atomic Bombed of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” When the film was screened at the United Nations, Yamaguchi spoke to the delegates and called for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

One Response to Tsutomu Yamaguchi

  1. Tyler Wellman

    This is an amazing story. I had no idea someone survived both bombings. Tsutomu seems like he lived a pretty exciting life. I wish could have met him.

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