A patron recently brought in a document he had found among his father’s belongings. It was a nine-page typed document titled, “Atomic Bomb On Hiroshima: Eyewitness Account of P. Siemes.” Our patron’s father had served in World War II and was in Japan after the bombing of Hiroshima, but he had never mentioned the document to any of his family. I did some research and found some history of the account.
Bishop Franklin Corley was in the United States army in World War II. He was one of the first American soldiers to enter the city of Hiroshima as part of the American occupational force following the surrender of Japan. The city was still burning when he first entered it and there he met Father P. Siemes, a Catholic German priest with the Novitists of the Society of Jesus in Nagatsuki. Father Siemes witnessed the explosion itself barely escaping the bomb’s lethal heat and shock waves. He had been directly involved in the post-bombing rescue and gave Bishop Corley a typewritten account of his observations. The manuscript was brought back to the United States and lay hidden for fifty years until Mr. Corley’s son released it.
It is Father Siemes firsthand typed firsthand account that our patrons father had in his possession. How he got a copy of the document is pretty much a mystery for now. The first use of an atomic bomb occurred on August 6, 1945, when the United States dropped a uranium gun-type bomb device with the code name of “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima in Japan. The bomb that hit Hiroshima killed approximately 70,000 and injured about the same number. Most of us have read and seen photos of the children born with deformities as a result of the radiation poisoning that followed the attack.
Siemes starts off his account by saying, “Up to August 6th, occasional bombs, which did no great damage, had fallen on Hiroshima. Many cities roundabout, one after the other, were destroyed, but Hiroshima itself remained protected. There were almost daily observation planes over the city, but none of them dropped a bomb. The citizens wondered why they alone had remained undisturbed for so long a time. There were fantastic rumors that the enemy had something special in mind for this city, but no one dreamed that the end would come in such a fashion as on the morning of August 6th.”
Siemes description is historically accurate. The United States had been heavily bombing Japanese cities all around Hiroshima for weeks prior to August 6th. Hiroshima had been left basically untouched so that the military could better gauge the destructive effect of a nuclear bomb and to allow Japanese officials to see what the use of just one such device could have on a city. Hiroshima was a minor supply and logistics base for the Japanese military and was mostly made up of wooden structures of homes and workshops making it highly susceptible to fire damage. The city was chosen because it was surrounded by hills which would have a “focusing effect” thus bringing about greater destruction and by its lack of POW’s.
“August 6th began in a bright, clear, summer morning. About seven o’clock, there was an air raid alarm which we had heard almost every day and a few planes appeared over the city. No one paid any attention and at about eight o’clock the all-clear sounded” Siemes writes. Then, “Suddenly—the time is approximately 8:14—the whole valley is filled by a garish light which resembles the magnesium light used in photography, and I am conscious of a wave of heat. I jump to the window to find out the cause of this remarkable phenomenon, but I see nothing more than that brilliant yellow light.”
“As I make for the door, it doesn’t occur to me that the light might have something to do with enemy planes. On my way from the window, I hear a moderately loud explosion which seems to come from a distance and, at the interval of perhaps ten seconds since the flash of light. I am sprayed by fragments of glass.” The priest realizes that a bomb has burst and he is under the impression that it exploded directly over his house. “Perhaps a half-hour after the explosion, a procession of people begins to stream up the valley from the city. The crowd thickens continuously. A few come up the road to our house.” He goes on to describe how he and his companions bring them into the chapel to treat them and their injuries which he describes as burns and “horrible wounds of the extremities and back.”
The document describing what Siemes saw is fascinating and can be read in its entirety at an online magazine called “The War Times Journal” at www.wtj.com/archives/hiroshima.htm.
A photo of Bishop Franklin Corley and other photos can also be viewed there. It can also be viewed and read in the Local History Department at the library. Once you read it you can understand how over sixty years later there is such fear over the continued development of nuclear weapons by countries around the world.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Firsthand account gives insight to Hiroshima bombing” on Oct. 24, 2007