By Paul Fattig
THE MAIL TRIBUNE
MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — “You would think the four-leaf clover pressed between pages in the old scrapbook was for good luck.
But the dried clover, next to another brittle-brown one with five leaves, doesn’t symbolize good fortune to Hideko “Tammy” Tamura Snider, 76, of Medford, Ore.
“There wasn’t any three-leaf clovers left,” she says, referring to the number of leaves that are normally found. “I was sitting on the riverbank and could reach out and grab these four-leaf and five-leaf clovers. There were no normal ones left. This was three years after the bomb.”
That would be the first atomic bomb used in warfare, the one the United States dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945. It killed an estimated 75,000 people instantly while leaving another 200,000 to die slowly of radiation poisoning within a year. Snider was a 10-year-old child in Hiroshima at the time.
Three days later, the United States dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing another 75,000 instantly, poisoning many more with radiation and bringing World War II to a close.
While debate continues over whether dropping the bombs was warranted — many American combat veterans argue there would have been more bloodshed had the war dragged on — Snider isn’t interested in fighting that battle. She is in New York City this weekend to show support for nuclear disarmament on the eve of the United Nations’ five-year review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The author of “One Sunny Day,” a 1996 book recounting the Hiroshima bombing, wants to remind the world of the human price of nuclear warfare.
“People need to know what the cost is,” stresses Snider, a retired psychiatric social worker. “The survivors of the nuclear bombs have to remind people of that cost. … There has to be a better way to settle our differences.”
Even now, it is hard for her to talk about that sunny summer morning in 1945.
“You know, it seems just like yesterday, it’s like something here goes into a million pieces,” she says, holding her right hand over her heart. “It isn’t anger. It’s nothing you can describe. You have someone you love so much, to have something horrible happen to them like this, it’s just unimaginable.”
For a moment, she thinks about her life before the bomb, back to a time when her family was living on her grandfather’s estate a little more than a mile from downtown Hiroshima, population of about 450,000, not including a large Japanese Fifth Army detachment. Her grandfather hired a full-time gardener to care for the garden with its seven sections. Her family owned a company that produced rubber goods and other products.
As an only child, she often played in the garden with her cousin Hideyuki Tamura, 12, whose family also lived on the estate. She has a photograph taken of her handsome extended family gathered for a portrait in the garden.
“This is my mother,” she says, pointing to Kimiko Tamura, an attractive young woman sitting in the center of the group. “I want you to notice her Western attire. This was in the heat of the war, and it was against the law to be identified with anything Western. My mother and my father (Jiro Tamura), they really believed in Western civilization. I never heard either one speak ill of the Americans or the Brits.”
Sitting in an Army uniform is her father, a graduate of a prestigious business university in Japan.
“He was a painter, a painter after a French impressionist,” she says. “Being drafted into the army was the last thing he wanted.”
Nestled in the group is a young Hideyuki Tamura. “That was my cousin. He was like a brother to me,” she says.
But the family’s pleasant existence was shattered by war. By spring of 1945, Allied planes were dropping conventional bombs on Hiroshima. Early in April, Snider was sent to an academy roughly 100 miles away along with other students up to the sixth grade. The remote school was out of harm’s way but there was little food and the children were forced to do labor, she says.
She and another young friend finally persuaded their parents to take them home. Their parents arrived at the school on Aug. 5.
“When they came, they said there were air raids every night at home and they wanted to stay one more day,” Snider recalls. “Both my girlfriend and I said, ‘No, we can’t stand being here. We’ve got to go home now.’ ”
They returned to their homes late that afternoon.
“The next day was beautiful and sunny,” she says. “And it was the happiest morning of my life because I was back home.”
Her father left for work as an officer attached to a transportation unit at the Hiroshima harbor several miles from downtown. Her mother went downtown with numerous other parents to help watch over some 3,000 middle school students gathered to help on a construction project. Hideyuki, who had just passed an entrance exam for a prestigious school in Hiroshima, was one of those students.
“I was sitting down leaning against the outside wall in the garden, reading,” Snider says. “There was this deafening sound. I jumped up.” An immense light bursting from the heart of the city hurt her eyes. “I thought, ’So this is what it is like to die in a war.’ After the big bolt of light, it became pitch dark. I thought it would never end. Then, very slowly, the darkness began to lift.”
Thanks to the stout pillars supporting it, the house didn’t collapse completely, she says.
“Our trees were still standing, the sun was still coming through,” she says. “I went from the rear entrance and walked to the front entrance. That’s when I saw the people on the ground.”
She stretched out her arms, indicating how the badly injured people on the street were reaching up for help she couldn’t provide. “I said, ‘I’m so sorry.’ I was just a little kid and there was no one I could bring to their aid. There was nobody to help,” she said.
There were no medical supplies and few medical professionals to administer aid. Already scarce in the city, food became nearly impossible to find after the nuclear blast.
“A few days after, I went around looking for my mother,” she says. “Nobody knew where people had fled or died. So we took a chance by visiting where the bodies were.”
She stopped talking for a moment, searching for words to describe a haunting world of suffering victims whose hanging skin looked like rags until she got up close.
“I was so horrified by what I saw people with terrible, terrible burns and injuries, people dying left and right,” she says. “I absolutely couldn’t stand what I saw.”
People near the epicenter of the blast were vaporized. Neither her mother nor her cousin were ever found.
Those who survived the initial blast soon began to suffer from radiation poisoning. “Your neighbors and your family members start developing these red spots, then their thyroids start swelling,” she says. “They can’t breathe. It’s horrific, like an enormous allergic reaction.
“Your vital organs start breaking down and you start bleeding. The horrible thing is you keep living while this is happening. You are exposed to an unspeakable struggle of the human flesh to live.”
The young girl, who had begun to close herself off to others, nearly succumbed to the radiation.
“I developed very severe skin problems, boils all over,” she says. “After that cleared up, I was very lethargic and ran a high fever. I bordered between life and death.”
An aunt who lived on an island off the coast and operated an inn that had been in the family for 14 generations learned of her illness.
“This aunt heard that if you have an unknown disease and there was nothing that could be done, you should sip the living blood of a snapping turtle. It would turn you around,” she says. “They propped me up and forced me to drink it. It was the most foul-tasting stuff.”
She doesn’t know if she survived because of the blood.
“But the poor turtle whose head was severed was turned into turtle soup and I ate that,” she says. “I had a huge amount of protein pushed into my system. That helped save me.”
While she recovered physically, she remained emotionally and mentally devastated by the experience.
“Most of us survivors weren’t glad we survived,” she says. “It wasn’t like falling off a cliff and a rescue party finds you alive and says, ‘You are so lucky.’ With this bomb, everything you knew as reality disappeared before your very eyes. I felt like air, like I didn’t exist.”
After the war, her father built a house along the Ota River near Hiroshima, on whose banks she found the clover with the odd leaves, the apparent result of genetic mutation caused by radiation.
“I was so down,” she says. “The only thing that calmed me were the sunsets that would shine over the moving water of the river flowing into the bay.”
She talks of a sunset painting her world orange and purple, bringing back good memories.
“My mother was there, our garden was there,” she says. “All those beautiful things I could bring back in my mind when I watched that sunset.”
But harsh reality ultimately returned. In Japan after the war, survivors of the nuclear bombs were not celebrated as heroes, she notes.
“We tended to be very discreet about being survivors,” she says. “You were very undesirable. You tired easily so you were an employment risk. You gave birth to deformed children so you were a marriage risk. In a country where an arranged marriage was predominant, anybody hearing about you being a survivor, well, there was no good to come of it.”
When she was 17, she decided to commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. But the train stopped abruptly. An elderly man had thrown himself in front of the train before it got to her, she says.
It was while attending a Methodist missionary school in Hiroshima, where she first pressed those clovers into her Bible and later into the scrapbook, that her life began to have meaning.
“The teacher we had convinced me that life was worth living, that you should not cut yourself off from the world, even after you had seen your whole world end on Aug. 6, 1945,” she says.
Upon graduating, she went to the United States, where she earned a degree in sociology from Ohio’s Wooster College in 1953, majoring in sociology. In fact, she will receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters next week during a ceremony at the college.
Before moving to Medford nearly a decade ago, she worked for years at the University of Chicago Hospital. It was there she met Robert Snider, a retired university political science professor who would become her husband.
It was also in Chicago where she befriended a writer named Studs Terkel, who included a chapter on her in his book, “The Good War.”
Terkel’s handwritten note in her copy of the book read, “To Tammy, I could not write this book without your precious memories. You had to be in it. My deepest appreciation and admiration.”
Now a grandmother whose granddaughter was born on Aug. 6, 2007, the Hiroshima survivor believes humanity can remove future nuclear threats. As evidence, she points to recent talks between the United States and Russia to further reduce nuclear weapon stockpiles.
“They know this is not an alternative, that we can’t go this way with more and more nuclear bombs,” she says. “The nuclear weapon is a power symbol. You can find them all over, in submarines under the sea, on the North Korean Peninsula and soon underground in Iran. Pretty soon, everybody will have the bomb unless we do something to stop it.”
The only way the nuclear Genie can be put back into the bottle is through the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, she believes. “I’m sorry our reference point is so unpleasant that some people don’t want to know anything about what happened,” she says. “But this is nothing compared to what can happen today. Our bomb was minute compared to the bombs they have now.” ♦
Paul Fattig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.