Tsutomu Yamaguchi was born on March 16, 1916 in Nagasaki, Japan, where he grew up and in the 1930s, joined Mitsubishi Heavy Industries working as a draftsman designing oil tankers. Then in the summer of 1945, he was in Hiroshima for a three-month-long business trip. That trip was at its conclusion on August 6th, and he was preparing to leave the city with two colleagues, Akira Iwanaga and Kuniyoshi Sato. They were on their way to the train station when Yamaguchi realized he had forgotten his hanko (a type of identification stamp common in Japan) and returned to his workplace to get it. That one act would have monumental consequences.
At 8:15am, Yamaguchi was walking towards the docks when the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb near the center of the city, only 1.9 miles away. Yamaguchi recalls seeing the bomber and two small parachutes, before there was “a great flash in the sky, and I was blown over”. The explosion ruptured his eardrums, blinded him temporarily, and left him with serious radiation burns over the left side of the top half of his body. After recovering, he crawled to a shelter and, having rested, he set out to find his colleagues. They had also survived and together they spent the night in an air-raid shelter before returning to Nagasaki the following day. In Nagasaki, he received treatment for his wounds and, despite being heavily bandaged, he reported for work on August 9th. As soon as he could get out, Yamaguchi went back home to Nagasaki.
Ironically, Yamaguchi arrived in Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Back at his office, Yamaguchi was describing the blast in Hiroshima to his supervisor at 11:00am, when the American bomber Bockscar dropped the Fat Man atomic bomb over the city. Yamaguchi’s workplace again put him 1.9 miles from ground zero. This time he was unhurt by the explosion, however, he was unable to replace his now ruined bandages and he suffered from a high fever and continuous vomiting for over a week. I’m sure he felt like he was dying. Technically, some 100 people were known to have been affected by both bombings. In 1957, Yamaguchi was recognized as a hibakusha “explosion-affected person” of the Nagasaki bombing. It is unknown, why the government didn’t recognize the other survivors. In 2006 Yamaguchi addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York City in support of nuclear disarmament. It was not until March 24, 2009, that the government of Japan officially recognized his presence in Hiroshima three days earlier, as well. He died of stomach cancer on January 4, 2010, at the age of 93. Yamaguchi was the only “officially” documented survivor of both the August 6, 1945 Hiroshima and the August 9, 1945 Nagasaki atomic bombings during World War II.