JULY 2009 — There may not be a more memorable—or terrifying—way to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Twice. This spring, a 93-year-old Japanese man, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, was the first person to be officially certified as a survivor of the atomic bombings of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Yamaguchi, who worked as an engineer in Nagasaki at the end of World War II, had traveled to Hiroshima on a business trip on August 6, 1945, when the first atomic bomb was dropped. He was seriously burned in the attack, which killed more than 120,000 people, and he returned to Nagasaki the next day for treatment. But on August 9, Yamaguchi’s hometown was destroyed by another atomic bomb, which killed an additional 70,000 people. The next day, Japan offered to surrender, bringing World War II to an end.
It is not clear why it took Yamaguchi so long to come forward, but his story has been a revelation in Japan. Victims of the atomic bombings in Japan have long been certified as hibakusha, or radiation survivors, which permits them to receive a monthly governmental allowance and free medical care. Yamaguchi had already been certified as a survivor of the Nagasaki attack.
More than anything, the aging survivor of the Second World War seems to want the legacy of the bombings to be remembered. “My double radiation exposure is now an official government record,” said Yamaguchi, who is reportedly fighting cancer that may have been caused by the bombs. “It can tell the younger generation the horrifying history of the atomic bombings even after I die.”