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Hiroshima mom waited three decades before she shared her A-bomb experience

by Yuji Yamamoto

Chugoku Shimbun

Ren Taoda couldn’t get over the regret she felt about denying her badly burned son water as they fled the fires in Hiroshima sparked by the atomic bomb.

On Aug. 6, 1945, Taoda, then 30, was on her way home from visiting her husband at the naval hospital in Kure when the A-bomb detonated while she was headed toward the streetcar stop at Hiroshima Station in Matsubara (now part of Minami Ward) with second son Hiroo on her back.

After being blown toward the station by the blast, nearly 2 km away, she lost consciousness momentarily but came to at the sound of Hiroo’s crying. Both had been badly scorched from behind by the heat wave generated by the blast.

She picked up a blackout curtain blown off the nearby station and wrapped it around her wounded 2-year-old son. The curtain, along with his bloodstained underwear, are now on display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Not a single day passed without her thanking Hiroo’s cries for saving her, but that was tempered by the daily regret she felt about not giving him any water. These painful memories prevented Taoda from talking about her experience with the bomb for decades.

In the wake of the blast, Taoda tried to make it to her home in Senda (now part of Naka Ward), but the center of the city had been destroyed. After a while, they were taken by a rescue truck to a school that was being used as an aid station.

Hiroo begged his mother for water, but she was reluctant to give him any because a rumor had spread that anyone with severe burns would die shortly after drinking water.

Her son died that evening while she was watching over him, despite her own immense pain. Taoda had Hiroo’s body cremated and returned home with his ashes.

It wasn’t until about 30 years ago, when Hiroo’s sister Matsuko Hasebe, decided to start talking about her own A-bomb experience, that Taoda decided to break her silence. She took the curtain, along with Hiroo’s underwear, out of storage and gave them to Hasebe, asking her to include her story in the testimony.

Taoda, who died in 2009 at the age of 94, had kept the curtain and underwear until 2005, when she donated them to the museum 60 years after the atomic bombing.

Each summer, Hasebe, who now lives in Uji in Kyoto, returns to Hiroshima to visit the museum, asking the staff to take her brother’s belongings out of storage each time.

“Looking at Hiroo’s belongings brings tears to my eyes,” Hasebe, now 79, said. “Although he was very young, he tried his best to survive as long as he could.”

She still clearly remembers her younger days, when she cheerfully played with her brother around the house.

This monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published on June 12.