A Family Fractured At Ground Zero
It was a few hours after midnight when Harry Fukuhara pulled into the U.S. Army garrison on the outskirts of Hiroshima for gas and spare tires.
“The city is off-limits,” the sleepy duty officer said. “No one is supposed to enter.”
Fukuhara nodded and thanked him for the gas. That rule wasn’t going to stop him.
A personal mission had brought the 25-year-old U.S. Army second lieutenant to Hiroshima, devastated only three weeks earlier by the atomic bomb.
A Japanese-American who had fought his way across the Pacific, Fukuhara had come back to the family hometown to search for his mother and three brothers.
He had not been able to contact them through the war, and he did not know whether they had survived the bombing, which killed about 140,000 people and reduced a thriving city to a tangle of broken buildings.
About 3,200 Americans were in Hiroshima at the time of the blast, according to Hiroshima city government statistics. About 20 were POWs; most, like Fukuhara’s family, were Japanese-Americans caught in the chaos of war.
With his commander’s permission to mount his search, Fukuhara became one of the first Americans to enter Hiroshima in the wake of the Aug. 6 bombing.
His mother, born near Hiroshima, had taken her five American-born children back to Japan in 1933 after the death of Fukuhara’s father, a first-generation Japanese immigrant.
“She thought it would be easier to raise kids by herself in Japan, where the living was cheaper,” said Fukuhara, who now lives in San Jose, Calif., with his family.
That night, the smell of death was everywhere.
“It was eerie and still, like a silent movie,” he recalled. It took him two or three hours to negotiate the pocked roads and broken bridges leading to his family’s home.
Fukuhara had returned to America after graduating from high school in Hiroshima eight years earlier.His studies were interrupted by After a brief spell in an internment camp, he decided to fight for his country.
He enlisted in the Army in 1942 and saw combat in the South Pacific, New Guinea, and the Philippines. But no battlefield horror prepared him for the lonely silence of his drive through Hiroshima.
All around him were charred chunks of wood and concrete, swarming with flies and maggots, and the skeletal frames of buildings.
It was shortly after sunrise when he pulled up in front of his family’s home. It was badly damaged but mostly standing.
The light and heat of the blast had etched the shadows of shrubs onto the wooden walls. The foliage itself, of course, was gone.
Pushing open the door, he called for his mother. Silence. He called again, louder. More silence.
Fukuhara stepped inside. In the only room where the roof above was intact, he found his mother sleeping. “Mom,” he said. “It’s Harry.”She told him of the family’s fate. His two younger brothers had been drafted into Japan’s Imperial Army and were still alive.
His oldest brother, Victor, had been walking to work when the bomb fell. He survived the blast, but the flesh had been seared from his back and he had been exposed to radiation. He lay dying in another room.
For years, the family avoided talking about what had happened to them in Hiroshima. The only balm for the horror was time - nearly half a century.
“Last year,” Fukuhara said, “was the first time we ever discussed it.”
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