Editor’s note: This letter was sent in October 1945 to William Aller of Spokane by his brother Leeon, a member of the Washington National Guard’s 116th Medical Battalion, who went to Hiroshima as a medical observer.
“Our first sight of Hell was indescribable…We could see the graveyard of a large city destroyed by one atomic bomb - a new sight and a new horror of war. Where once was a modern Japanese city consisting of seven and eight story buildings, stores and factories, parks and gardens, homes and churches (many Christian ones, too), hospitals, bridges and other examples of man’s urban life, there was now nothing but ashes. There are trees still standing, but they are burned brown, barren of leaves and limbs, and symbolize the total extinction of life in Hiroshima. A few, very few, concrete skeletons of buildings stand, but even inside these, there are warped girders and metal doors melted by the terrific heat. The center of the city was leveled to the ground for miles.
“Have you ever built a house of cards, leaning one against another, up, up, and then with one breath of air send the whole structure tumbling to the base? Well, that is just what the atomic bomb did to Hiroshima, only there were people living in the houses, and cars and streetcars moved on the streets. A blast - and there was nothing…There couldn’t have been any warning, because all of the fire engines, twisted and blackened by the blast, are still lined up in the central fire department building…
“Already some of the stunned populace were building little shacks from salvage lumber and metal. Bitterness must be deep in the hearts of the Japanese men and women who survived the atomic bombing, but the children playing in the streets and ashes of homes showed only the international curiosity for Yanks as we drove around in our jeep. It has been two months since the bombing, and although there is no evident hysteria now, the two badly damaged hospitals are still treating burned and injured survivors. They resented our entrance at first, but the doctors and nurses of the Red Cross Hospital we visited now understand that we are trying to help them.
“One building in the center of the city is still standing with fire escape stairs up one side. We climbed to the top - seven stories, and could see the devastated area for miles in every direction. Tombstones in the numerous cemeteries stood up through the ashes. They are hardly touched by the blast, and it seems as though the atomic fury was concentrated on destroying the living, not desecrating the dead or monuments to them. From the top of the building we stood on, we could see two structures destroyed almost beyond recognition, but they were definitely churches of beautiful Gothic architecture. An atomic bomb respects nothing - it destroys everything, bad and good, ugly and beautiful.
“It was a sober group of soldiers who came down the fire escape on one of Hiroshima’s few remaining buildings. We, as the Forty-First Infantry Division, had fought the Japs from 1942 at Buna-Sanananda until 1945 in the Philippines; three long years in which we learned to hate the little men representing the Land of the Rising Sun. They were cunning and treacherous, ruthless fighters and stubborn defenders of caves and pillboxes. The Jap soldier never received pity from us, but as my group left the ruins of Hiroshima in a jeep, I felt a deep horror for the type of war we have begun with the Atomic Bomb. I pity these people who suffered total war as no one else in the world has…May my children’s children live in a peaceful world, where there are no more Hiroshimas and Nagasakis.
MEMO: After the war, Leeon Aller completed medical school, was a family physician in Snohomish, Wash. He established Hands for Peace Making, which provides help to underdeveloped nations and has spent the last 10 years at a hospital and school in northern Guatemala.