On August 6, 1945, a 29-year-old Engineer for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries had just stepped off a streetcar in Hiroshima, Japan. Tsutomu Yamaguchi happened to look up and noticed a very high-flying airplane. Soon, a tiny silvery speck dropped from the airplane. Instinctively, the man dove towards the street, covered his eyes, and plugged his ears. Moments later, the city violently shook. He was about three kilometres away from ground zero. Yamaguchi was catapulted into the air.
When he crashed back onto the street, he lost consciousness. When Yamaguchi came to, he noticed extreme darkness and above him was a high cloud of boiling ash and smoke. His exposed skin felt like it had been sunburned. Instantly he noticed his left eardrum had been ruptured and his torso had also been burned. He felt stunned and disoriented so all he could do was instinctively try to reach the Mitsubishi offices. When he was near the location, Yamaguchi found out the factory was no longer there.
Yamaguchi spent the rest of the day and overnight in a bomb shelter, there he picked up on rumors that trains were still departing from the railroad station. The next morning, he trudged towards the station but found out that all the bridges were destroyed. On August 7th, he unsuccessfully crawled through piles of dead bodies. Then, the young engineer noticed a solitary railroad track. He inched along the steel beam to the other side of the river then dashed to the railroad station.
He discovered that trains were actually departing. Yamaguchi forced himself into the mass of survivors who had jammed themselves onto the express leaving for Nagasaki, and the comfort of his own home.
On August 9th, Yamaguchi was in his office at the Nagasaki division of Mitsubishi. While he was telling his boss about the bombing of Hiroshima, a similar bright flash of white light illuminated the room. Once again, Yamaguchi was about three kilometres away from ground zero. The engineer was severely injured again, but was able to recover. During his hospitalization, Yamaguchi heard the news of his nation’s surrender and the end of World War Two.
Unofficial stories claim that perhaps there were around 160 “Nijyuu Hibakusha” (twice-bombed people). However, Tsutomu Yamaguchi is the only person officially recognized by the Japanese government as “Nijyuu Hibakusha”. Yamaguchi’s wife, who survived fallout from the Nagasaki blast, died in 2008 of liver and kidney cancers. The couple’s son died of cancers at the age of 59 and one of their two daughters has suffered chronic illness all of her life.
During the Allied occupation of Japan, Yamaguchi was assigned as a translator for the US Marines. Afterwards, he found a position as a teacher in Nagasaki. When Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was rebuilt, Yamaguchi was again employed there as an engineer. He spent his years at the company designing oil tankers and other large ships.
Eventually, Yamaguchi became a vocal advocate against nuclear weapons. He penned his memoirs, in which he described his wartime experiences and his later anti-nuclear activism. Yamaguchi was included in the 2006 documentary “Niju Hibaku”. At the United Nations premier of the film, he spoke out against further development of nuclear arms.
In early 2009 Yamaguchi wrote a letter to President Barack Obama to express his views about a nuclear arms ban. In December of that year, Canadian movie director James Cameron and writer Charles Pellegrino consulted Yamaguchi about the possibility of a film regarding nuclear weapons. At this same time, Yamaguchi was hospitalized for stomach cancer.
On January 4, 2010 Tsutomu Yamaguchi died in Nagasaki, Japan. Yamaguchi had often expressed an upbeat philosophical attitude regarding his survival of the two atomic bombs. “I could have died on either of those days. Everything that followed has been a bonus.”