By toby aronson
August 5, 2016 By Greg Mitchell
I’ve posted dozens of pieces about the atomic bombing (before and after) of Japan in August 1945. Here’s a story, from my book Atomic Cover-Up, on what happened, weeks later, when the first U.S. troops arrived.
On September 8, General Thomas F. Ferrell arrived in Hiroshima with a radiologist and two physicists from Los Alamos, ordered by Manhattan Project chief General Leslie Groves to return to Tokyo the following day with preliminary findings. There was some urgency. It was one thing if the Japanese were dying of radiation disease; there was nothing we could do about that. But sending in American soldiers if it was unsafe was another matter.
Three days later, Farrell announced that “no poison gases were released” in Hiroshima. Vegetation was already growing there.
The first large group of US soldiers arrived in Nagasaki around September 23, about the time the Japanese newsreel teams started filming, and in Hiroshima two weeks later. They were part of a force of 240,000 that occupied the islands of Honshu (where Hiroshima is located) and Kyushu (Nagasaki). Many more landed in Nagasaki, partly because its harbor was not mined. Marines from the 2nd Division, with three regimental combat teams, took Nagasaki while the US Army’s 24th and 41st divisions seized Hiroshima. The US Navy transported Marines and evacuated POWs, but its role ashore (beyond medical services) was limited.
Most of the troops in Hiroshima were based in camps on the edge of the city, but a larger number did set up camps inside Nagasaki. Because of the alleged absence of residual radiation, no one was urged to take precautions. Some bunked down in buildings close to ground zero, even slept on the earth and engaged in cleanup operations, including disposing bodies, without protective gear. Few if any wore radiation detection badges. “We walked into Nagasaki unprepared…. Really, we were ignorant about what the hell the bomb was,” one soldier would recall. Another vet said: “Hell, we drank the water, we breathed the air, and we lived in the rubble. We did our duty.”
A marine named Sam Scione, who had survived battles on Guadacanal, Tarawa and Okinawa, now arrived in Nagasaki, sleeping first in a burned-out factory, then a schoolhouse. “We never learned anything about radiation or the effects it might have on us,” he later said. “We went to ground zero many times and were never instructed not to go there.” A year later, on his return to the United States, his hair began to fall out and his body was covered in sores. He suffered a string of ailments but never was awarded service-related disability status.
The occupying force in Nagasaki grew to more than 27,000 as the Hiroshima regiments topped 40,000. Included were many military doctors and nurses. Some stayed for months. The US Strategic Bomb Survey sent a small group of photographers to take black-and-white photos of blast effects. By all accounts the Americans were charmed by the Japanese, thankful that the bomb might …read more