By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR
“Mizu, mizu, (water, water),” recalled Junji Sarashina, remembering the pleas of survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, who had gathered at the Red Cross center seeking help.
“There were 1,000 people at the Red Cross. No doctors or nurses were there to help, they were also wounded,” Sarashina said.
Just 17 at the time, Sarashina shared his memories of that day at a press conference announcing the 17th round of biennial medical check ups for atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha) which will take place this weekend in Torrance.
Approximately 130 to 140 hibakusha will undergo physical examinations, conducted by a team of physicians from Hiroshima, with assistance from doctors of the Japanese Community Health Inc. and Los Angeles County Medical Association. The examinations will take place at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center’s Ningen Dock Center. There are 1,000 hibakusha in the U.S., with as many as 700 residing in California. The Hiroshima medical team will also be conducting physicals of survivors in Hawaii.
The U.S. B29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945; three days later another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. There were 140,000 casualties in Hiroshima and 19,000 in Nagasaki. Survivors still continue to feel the aftereffects.
Sarashina surmised that his life may have been spared because the wind blew in a different direction. He was less than two miles from the center of the explosion.
“The saddest thing I’ve seen was a small bundle of a black item … it was a little baby,” he said. “That stays in my mind after 64 years. Why did this little child have to die? We have to think about peace, we have to think about the atomic bomb, we have to think about the hydrogen bomb.”
Dr. Makoto Matsumura, medical team leader, said the Hiroshima team has found that hibakusha, depending on their proximity to the hypocenter, experience cancer at a rate 1.5 times higher than the general population. They also have higher incidences of stroke and myocardial infarction. Eleven doctors and support staff will conduct the tests.
In the future, he hopes to add screenings for stomach, breast and lung cancer for the survivors, noting that he would take the concerns of the survivors to new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
“We will continue this mission as the responsibility of Hiroshima,” Dr. Matsumura said.