Memorial Day, 2010

Today is Memorial Day, when Americans honor those who have fought for our country. My father, Tom, was an officer in the US Navy Medical Corps during World War II. In a brief memoir he describes a visit to Nagasaki, the 2nd city to suffer an atomic bomb attack.

Today is Memorial Day in America. For international visitors, this is the day Americans remember those who have died fighting for our liberty and our ideals. While most of what modern storage systems protect are business records there is also the use of storage for saving our cultural heritage – of which this is a small part.

WWII My father, Tom, was an officer in the US Navy Medical Corps during World War II. As a newly commissioned 2nd lieutenant he was aboard a submarine tender anchored at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. As a doctor he spent the next 36 hours in an operating room working on the wounded.

Less than 4 years later he was aboard one of the first US ships to enter Nagasaki’s harbor after the Japanese surrender. In a brief memoir he describes a visit to Okinawa on the way to Tokyo – where he was aboard the USS Missouri when the formal surrender was signed – and then on to Nagasaki, the 2nd city to suffer an atomic bomb attack.

USS Haven, a USN hospital ship, in 1954

The primary mission the Haven was the collection of Allied POW’s in need of medical care from the many camps in the Nagasaki area.

The trains began arriving every three or four hours each one with several hundred men. Each new arrival was a thrill with the band playing “Hail, Hail the Gang’s All Here” and the sailors and marines on the platform cheering. It was an experience to see the somewhat bewildered expressions of the men on the trains change to tears, smiles and laughter as they realized that they had reached the end of the road – that the day, the longing for which had sustained them through months and years of torture and mistreatment, was at hand.

While in Nagasaki he visited a Japanese hospital dealing with the carnage of the atomic bomb:

What we saw in that hospital was something I wouldn’t have missed seeing for anything but something I never want to see again.

Everywhere you looked there were desperately sick people, mostly women and children. Many were horribly burned and over and around all of them were flies by the millions. There were no beds – all patients were lying on straw mats on the floor. In the corridors of the hospital, the patient’s kin had set up their charcoal burners and were preparing a meal thus filling the hospital with smoke. One sensed that death was hovering over many of these people – while we were examining one recent admission, two died close by.

My father soon had his hands full with some very sick POWs.

Within a few days after the released prisoners of war had started arriving at our processing station, my two wards were filled with sick men, many of them living skeletons. Many people thought that it would be only a matter of “resting them up for a couple of days” and giving them plenty to eat. Those of us working with them, however, soon realized that a great many of them were desperately ill and urgent measures were necessary to save them.

But he also got the chance to meet with some of the scientists from the Manhattan project that developed the bomb.

It was our good fortune that the committee sent out by president Truman to study the atomic bomb explosion arrived in Nagasaki soon after we did. They asked to be quartered on board the Haven and inasmuch as I was in charge of the officer’s mess, it was my duty to look after them. As a result I had many interesting discussions regarding the atomic bomb and its possibilities with the members of the committee several of whom were scientists who had worked with the bomb from the beginning. Of course, they gave out no information except what had been released for publication, still it was a thrill to talk with the men who had done much to work it out.

After a lecture by one of the scientists my father concluded:

It may have ended the war for us, but it may some day be turned against us and we would lose the things for which we fought this long bloody war. Our country could be the greatest force for peace and security in the world if it would but accept the responsibility. Even out here few think of anything but getting back and forgetting what they have seen out here. “Let’s get home and look after our own affairs – what these people do out here is none of our business”, they say. And these are intelligent men – it depresses me. We are still selfish and materialistic, we have learned nothing apparently.

Comments welcome, of course. The complete 12 page document – OCR’d into a PDF – is available here. Scanning from typescript is imperfect so there may be OCR errors.

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All