Sunday, February 7, 2010

More on Nagasaki

The ruins of Nagasaki, Japan, 1945.

Finding the newspaper clipping that proved my father toured the ruins of Nagasaki in 1945, shortly after the use of the atomic bomb as a weapon for just the second time in the history of the world, was important to me for several reasons.

I've been filing a claim with the Veterans Administration for compensation for his exposure to the radiation there: late in his life he has developed two forms of cancer and his doctors told me very clearly that exposure at Nagasaki could easily explain this. So I've sent the newspaper article to the VA and am hoping for the best on that.

A page from my grandmother's World War II scrapbook, featuring clippings about my father.

But more than that, I wanted this event in our family history to be recorded for all the generations to come. My father was there and saw with his own eyes how terrible it was and his words are descriptive as well as give insight to his character:

He wrote:
"Yesterday I learned first hand what President Truman meant when he said, 'As an alternative we offer you prompt and utter destruction.' We drove down to Nagasaki. That place is really a mess."

My father was recalling that this did not have to happen. The U.S. had offered Japan the alternative of surrender. They chose not to do so. Many more lives on both sides would have been lost in a bloody, terrible, lengthy invasion of the Japanese home islands. But Nagasaki was also a terrible choice.

He continues:
"The stench of the dead is still present in some places ... Anyone who had the starting of a war in his mind should see Nagasaki. I believe he would change his plans."

No one hates war like a soldier, my father once told me. And he said something similar to his mother in his last V-letter home, on Mother's Day 1945, while he was still in the thick of the Battle of Okinawa. I found this in the same scrapbook with the article about my father's Nagasaki experience, which came just a few months later:

"Let us hope this will be the last Mother's Day that mothers will have to be concerned about the whereabouts and safety of their sons ... I am looking forward to the day when I can send you a Grandmother's Day card. I hope it won't be too long until we can make that wish come true. Lots of Love, Ashley. "

Dad, home on leave, standing next to his proud father Joseph Roy Chapman, in the backyard of 1009 Palmetto in Homewood, Alabama. Shortly after this, he met my mother, married, and entered the last phase of World War II in the Pacific and then returned to the U.S. and lived happily ever after.

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