Never Forgotten

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Dr. Makoto Matsumura, of Hiroshima, Japan, checks Reiko Tsuji’s blood pressure at the 17th biennial A-Bomb medical examination held last weekend at the Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Institute in Torrance. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Dr. Makoto Matsumura, of Hiroshima, Japan, checks Reiko Tsuji’s blood pressure at the 17th biennial A-Bomb medical examination held last weekend at the Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Institute in Torrance. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By NAO GUNJI

Rafu English Assistant Editor

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“I’ve never had a reason to go see a doctor,” Mack Baig said with a shy, but proud smile. “But this might be my first and last opportunity considering my age, that’s why I came here today.”

Baig was one of the nearly 150 hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) who underwent physical examinations and consultations conducted by a group of Japanese and local doctors at the Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Institute in Torrance over last weekend.

Since 1977, the American Society of Hiroshima Nagasaki A-bomb Survivors (ASA) has hosted the physical exam (Kenshin) every other year with the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, Japanese Community Health Inc. and Hiroshima Prefecture. Started as a grassroots effort led by ASA President Kaz Suyeishi, doctors and healthcare officials visit Los Angeles, Hawaii, Seattle and San Francisco from Hiroshima to monitor and examine the health of the survivors.

Baig is a zainichi (Korean Japanese), who was born and grew up in Hiroshima, moved to South Korea after the war, then, relocated to Los Angeles in 1980. He still remembers seeing the massive black cloud forming after the atomic bomb explosion on Aug. 6, 1945.

Baig, of Los Angeles, said he participated in the physical exam for the first time this year to “leave some proof” of what he went through 64 years ago.

“I haven’t talked much about what happened in Hiroshima to my daughters. They know I was born in Hiroshima, they know about the A-Bomb, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell them all the details. It was too…” the 77-year-old retiree paused, searching for the right Japanese word to describe the ordeal.

Suggested by Suyeishi, who happens to have hailed from a neighboring town of his hometown, Baig decided to get the exam and to tell his children about it.

Hiroshima native Mack Baig shows the pictures taken during his last trip to Hiroshima at the hibakusha exam Sunday. (NAO GUNJI/Rafu Shimpo)

Hiroshima native Mack Baig shows the pictures taken during his last trip to Hiroshima at the hibakusha exam Sunday. (NAO GUNJI/Rafu Shimpo)

Despite his proximity to the center of the bombing, Baig has suffered no serious illnesses. This was something he wanted to discuss with the doctors at the exam. “I was right there, I saw the cloud… I saw red bodies piled up in a derailed train,” he said.

So, Sunday, armed with a photo album from his last trip to Hiroshima, Baig had nurses weigh him, draw his blood, and monitor his heart and blood pressure. He doesn’t think they will find anything wrong, but he said talking to the doctors convinced him to apply to become an “official” survivor of the atomic bomb. Being an “official” would make him eligible for the same care and support available to the hibakusha in Japan, which is not something Baig looks forward to, but might become useful in the future.

“This is a reunion,” said Suyeishi, whom Baig respectfully calls “older sister.” He waved good- bye to her as he walked out of the clinic, and Suyeishi had him promise to come back in two years. “Be good,” she said to his back, jokingly.

As a hibakusha herself, Suyeishi knows that the biennial examination is more than a place to share health concerns for the survivors, especially as they get older. Hibakusha abroad also seek emotional connections to the home.

“In the past, they had more physical concerns and complaints. It’s difficult to be sick when you’re young,” she said. “But, our lives are more than half way done now. We understand that everybody dies, it’s O.K. We’re just thankful to be here and enjoy each other… We talk about Hiroshima, the places and the food that we remember.”

Hiroshima was certainly on Baig’s mind Sunday. He told the Rafu Shimpo he has many places he’d like to visit if he had a chance to visit his hometown again.

“I want to see all, my school, playground, river… I think the pebbles on the riverbed still remember me. For me, they are not just pebbles…” Tears filled his eyes behind his glasses.

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