On August 6th, 1945, my grandfather, Pei-Pu Su, drove his army supply van along the mountain road to Hiroshima, Japan. Unknown to the entire Japanese nation, an event of unprecedented proportions would unfold before their eyes in a matter of minutes, an event that would alter the course of history: the dropping of the first atomic bomb.
What is your native country? Is your family originally from Taiwan?
I was born in Taipei, Taiwan where I live today. My family can trace its lineage in Taiwan for almost 250 years. We consider ourselves Taiwanese.
Describe the political atmosphere in Taiwan during your childhood
China had lost the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and was forced to cede Taiwan to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. From what I could see, the Japanese occupation affected the educational system in Taiwan. Elementary school was mandatory. In junior high, there were two types of schools: one which was mostly Japanese students and one which was mostly Taiwanese. Taiwanese people could only attend the Japanese schools if their parents had political connections to the Japanese.
What circumstances led to your attending school in Japan?
When it was time to take the test to enter junior high, my tutor, who was Japanese, suggested that I take the test to enter the Japanese school in Taiwan. However, the tests for the Japanese and Taiwanese junior highs were held on the same day. If I wasn't accepted into the Japanese school, I would have no school to attend. As it turned out, the Japanese school reported that I had failed the entrance examination. My tutor believed that political reasons had prevented my acceptance, since I had graduated number one. When the Japanese school refused to release the exam papers, he convinced my father to allow me to take the entrance exam to attend junior high in Japan. He believed I would be treated fairly there.
And so you were accepted to the schools in Japan? How old were you?
Yes. I attended junior high in Nara. I lived with a friend of my tutor's - Mr. Shonago. I was 13 years old.
Describe what it was like living in Nara:
Mr. Shonago was poor and I had to help the family by taking care of his kids. There was rarely enough food to eat.
Where were you when the war broke out?
I was in junior high. During my second year there, students were forced to work for the army. We lived in dorms near the factory, outside of Hiroshima.
What was your role in the army?
None of us were sent to battles, if that's what you were thinking. The majority of us worked as army supply transporters. We drove supplies between the factories in the suburbs of Hiroshima and the city.
Trace the events on August 6th, 1945.
The day began as usual. We departed in twos from the factory and drove our supplies down the mountain road. On the way, I stopped to talk to a friend who was driving back from Hiroshima. After our conversation, we continued to drive. Suddenly, I saw a big flash of light. It was really bright. There was also a very loud sound and a blast of wind. Although we were aware that it was a bomb, we had no idea that it was an atomic one. At any rate, I was able to climb out of my truck and lie underneath it. Luckily, the houses along the road protected me from the direct rays of the bomb. We were also about half an hour from Hiroshima. Afterwards, we drove back to the factory because we thought Hiroshima might be too dangerous to enter. Later that day, rain fell on the city. Only later did we realize that it was radioactive.
What did you do the days following the bomb?
The next day I drove back to army headquarters in Hiroshima. Since shoes were scarce, I wore only flimsy slippers when I walked around the city. Hiroshima was lying amid destruction. The worst damage was in the middle, where the bomb had been dropped. Fires had destroyed many of the buildings, especially in that area. Human causalities were most frightening. Dead bodies, shrunk like mummies, were scattered about. Others were blackened like charcoal. Those who were still living begged for water. They were severely injured but help was not available. We were still unaware that an atomic bomb had dropped. (Most assumed it was another air strike.)
How has witnessing the bomb and its aftermath affected you psychologically?
I was shocked to see the casualities and wounds people suffered. Air strikes were fairly common during the war, and we were accustomed to seeing dead bodies. When we did learn of the effects of an atomic bomb years later, my first fear was that I would be unable to have children.
Have you suffered any physical side effects?
After the bomb, any time I was bitten by mosquitoes, it took a long time to heal. To this day I fear any kind of infection. Recently, I've been developing white patches on my skin. I'm not sure whether this is a side effect of the atomic bomb or not.
Did you continue to live in Japan or return to Taiwan?
For a while, I lived in my dorm at the prep college. At least four buildings burned down. The school was located in the Minami district and wasn't affected as severely by the bomb. I soon realized there was no work, no school, and the city was paralyzed. I then went to live with my sister in Kobe. Her house was destroyed by air strikes so she rented a house in the suburbs.
What did you do in Kobe?
To make a living, we bought rice from the countryside and sold it in the city. I especially remember the train rides to the countryside. It was often so crowded that people hung on the outside of the train. My sister owned a small eatery and we made red bean soup. In October or November, I was prepared to return to Taiwan on a commercial ship when my appendix started acting up.
Was is it a serious medical problem?
The doctors called it peritonitis. It's an often fatal form of appendicitis, especially without penicillin. In Japan, penicillin was very scarce and reserved for the army. So my recovery was slow, due to this lack and the effects of the bomb. Two months later, I returned to Taiwan, transported on a destroyer!
Did the bomb change your outlook on life?
I no longer fear death. I witnessed so much during the air raids and especially the dropping of the atomic bomb that I have learned to take life as it is. I think it motivated me to enjoy life to the utmost.
After the war, Mr. Su was featured on NHK, a Japanese news channel, as a witness to the atomic bomb. He works as a doctor in Taiwan. He enjoys classical music, mah jong and amusing his family with his constant flow of humor. He has four children and six grandchildren, all living in the United States.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.