Joe O'Donnell, a U.S. Marine photographer took this photo, “the boy standing by the crematory” (taken in 1945, Nagasaki ground zero ). I came in from Sasebo to Nagasaki and looked around from a hill. Men walking with white masks caught my attention. The men were working besides a big hole of about 60cm deep. They were putting the corpses pilled up on a wagon into the hole with burning lime . Then I saw a boy of around ten years old walking toward them. He has his little brother baby strapped on his back. In those days, it was quite common in Japan to see young boys carrying their little brother or sister on their back while playing at the field. But this boy wasn’t here to play. He had a very important duty to come to this crematory. You can see it on his face. And he was bare feet. The boy came to the edge of the crematory. His face is stiff and eyes bracing for an ordeal. The baby on his back looks deep asleep and head bent backward. The boy stood there for five or ten minutes. Then the men with the white masks came towards him and started to untie his strap. At this moment, I realized that this baby brother he was carrying was dead. The men gently held the baby’s arms and legs and slowly put him into the hole where the hot stones are laid. I could hear the steaming sound of the baby’s flesh burning. Then a gleaming red flare danced up in the air. The bright red color like the sunset was reflecting on the yet tender boy’s cheek as he stood there straight and still. That moment, I realized that the boy was biting his lip and it was bleeding. He was biting hard as he gazed his little brother in flames. When the flames had calmed down, the boy turned on his heels and left the place silently. （extraction from an interview by Seiko Ueda)
My impression：Looking at this boy in the photo, I was very moved by his posture and attitude. I saw the true nature of a Japanese mind. He was standing up straight. I could tell from his posture and eyes that he was trying his best to pay respect to all the people who lost their lives and now laying inside the hole. He was still very young, but he knew what to do. I could see in his eyes bitterness from the tragedy and at the same time compassion towards the dead. He looked like a real samurai, brave and manly who see death with not attachment. He is a proud Japanese child. A soul who was chosen to be on this land strongly tied with the ubusuna-gami (the god of the land).
Joe O'Donnell had joined the army because at first he hated Japan and wanted to fight against them. And he was assigned to be in Nagasaki right after the drop of the atomic bomb. The damage was more than he could ever imagine. He witnessed the people who were disfigured yet still alive and helping and caring the severely injured and close to death people. This made him change his feeling toward the Japanese people. The nation he witnessed was not the nation he hated. People were all helping each other in spite of their own severe pain. And the biggest shock for Joe was to see this young boy. The boy with his dead brother on his back was standing straight in bare feet yet not loosing his dignity. And much older guy like himself couldn’t even go and say or do something.
When he went home to the US, he raised a big question. Was it really a righteous thing to drop an atomic bomb and kill so many of the innocent lives? Was that really necessary as a war between nations? He said he held gatherings to discuss this issue and he was bashed and experienced bitter criticism. Every time Joe returned to Japan after the war, he had the boy’s photo with him trying to find his whereabouts. But he was never able to find his trace or information. If he was carrying the baby, I assume his parents were already dead. The bleeding lip tells that he wanted to cry so hard and trying to hold it so badly. He must have been deeply lonely and lost. But he kept his dignity and tried to stay strong.
Today in this modern Japan, we are in peace without war, yet we trouble our hearts and cry. Looking at this boy, we have to come to a realization. What we are experiencing today is not a big deal. There is still room for us to make it better. We are going to be fine. The time will always pass and things will eventually change.
Thank you for letting us live