71 years ago the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Here is one Japanese soldier’s recollections of that time in history.

Recollections Of Hiroshima.

(as told to Edith Morris in 1998)

    “On a calm summer morning we heard the siren screaming that the American bombing had started.

    I made the mistake of being one of the first Japanese soldiers to run to the underground air-raid shelter. Within minutes I thought I was going to choke to death from the dust stirred up by hundreds of soldiers pressing into the dark cave. The smell of bodies, foul air, and fear filled my lungs to bursting point as we waited for the all clear call so we could pour out into the bright sun and fresh air again.”

    Kentaro Kubo has a far away look in his eyes as he relives the war more than 50 years ago. The old soldier continued.

    “So when the next alarm sent the men running underground in panic I didn’t run with them. The thought of being almost buried alive filled me with horror. Instead, in an act of defiance, a fellow soldier and I hid on a small hill behind our barracks near Kure naval base. We were determined to see this enemy who kept us running underground.”

    Four American P51 Mustang fighter planes flew over the brow of the hill straight towards him. The last one veered from the group and shot a Japanese plane to the ground. As it burst into flames Kentaro looked up at the American plane and was sure it was his time to die. To this day it remains one of his most vivid memories of the war.

    Little did he realise then that the bombing of Kure Naval Base by American and British aircraft which took place on the last days of July 1945 was a prelude to the most destructive bomb imaginable would explode in the valley below only 20 miles away.

    “I am now 70 years old and the years since that incident have been God’s gift of life to me, when I realise I could have died as a 17-year-old on that hillside. It was the closest I came to death.”

    Kentaro Kubo was born into a Shinto family in 1928 in Fukuoka Prefecture, Southern Japan. His father was a scholarly man, a teacher who taught him the precepts of classic Confucianism. His mother, like most Japanese mothers at the time, was proud that her only son joined the military. Indeed he was fighting a Holy War for the Emperor, obeying the command of a living god. Citizens who were against the second world war were imprisoned and silenced.

    Kentaro was only 16 years old when he volunteered. His unit was made up of many young friends and neighbours from his village. He trained and studied in the Air Force for almost two years being moved around several bases in the southern part of Japan. There he saw many suicide seaplanes with bombs attached to their wings and watched the pilots do their training. One of his unit’s duties was to dig a wide trench from the beach to further inland to hide these suicide seaplanes. Eventually he was transferred to the motor boat division of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

    This division had the impressive title “Kamikaze Tokubetsu Kogekitai” (Suicide Special Attack Force) and was the counter-part of the kamikaze suicide planes. Small boats, which were poorly constructed, were powered by two Mitsubishi truck engines. Two bombs were mounted on each side of these flimsy crafts and one or two riders manned the boat on its suicide mission. The target was to hit large warships with torpedo-like explosives. It was a one way ride, a suicide ride, a no-return ride.

    In the waters around the Philippines these suicide boats were used successfully in surprise attacks against the enemy. The little boats and their youthful riders could hide behind rocks and islands at night, sheltered from sight of the huge US ships. When the bomb boats hit their marks, the riders blew up with them. But by the time the US military had taken Okinawa sometime later, they knew to surround their large war ships with their own small vessels for protection against the sneaky Japanese suicide crafts.

    Soldier Kubo proudly volunteered as a suicide rider. While he waited for the construction of these boats at Kure base near Hiroshima, he spent his time studying wireless and morse code, pistol shooting, gun practice and athletic fitness. He and his unit were separated from the other soldiers. They were the elite, the ones willing to die in suicide missions. They would then become gods and their ashes enshrined in the ancient Yasukuni Shrine close to the Emperor’s castle in Tokyo. Then the entire nation would come and worship them. Most soldiers were eager and willing to volunteer as riders and those special ones chosen were envied.

    Being isolated from the regular soldiers on the base, the suicide soldiers were given better food, exempt from the menial task of gardening, denied entertainment and the pleasures of life which might increase their desire to live. They were preparing themselves to die.

    Each soldier was given a harakiri sword to kill himself if his mission failed or he was shamefully captured by the enemy. Kentaro believed that since ancient times Samurai warriors had swords. Now he had one he felt like a mighty Samurai, a warrior, proud to fight in his country’s religious war. He was a 17-year-old boy soldier.

    Kentaro Kubo still has his sword today. (1998)

    Decades later, now a stately old gentleman, he was asked about the most painful subject: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. A flicker of hesitation came over his square, plain face and he rubbed his forehead as if trying to erase a bad memory. The Kure naval base was close to Hiroshima where he trained and he recalled the day before the bombing.

    “It was a hot, humid, mid-summer August day and I took a stroll through the military complex. I noticed some men erecting a stage for evening entertainment and thought it would be good to attend. But my unit was forbidden such frivolity least it weaken our resolve to die for the Emperor and country.”

    The next sultry day he went to the entertainment barrack again and asked if they all enjoyed the previous evenings show. “No” was the reply. The entertainers didn’t arrive because a huge bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, just beyond the Kurashiki hills of his camp. One of the soldiers from his unit went to look over the city of Hiroshima from a distance. He found a paper sign on a primary school building. It had disintegrated and the black ink lettering had turned to a white powder. Was this caused by an atomic bomb?

    Within a week of the devastating bombing, the barracks were emptied of the hundreds of soldiers. Kentaro Kubo returned to his home-town on the southern island of Kyushu by open baggage train. From that train he could see Hiroshima was in ruins, flattened, it looked like a desert. The concrete train station at Hiroshima had been pulverised into sand. He didn’t know if it was radio-active or not. He travelled down war torn Japan to his own village, to the burnt out home of his parents. All had been destroyed by American forces a week earlier. How would he start his new life?

    “Just after the end of the war we heard the quivering voice of our revered Emperor for the first time.” Mr Kubo continued his painful memories. “To us Japanese, he was a living god and his voice had never been heard by the masses before. The radio connection was not good, faint and full of static, but one sentence I heard …. ‘we have surrendered’.”

    He ran his hands through his thick silver hair, slightly puzzled by the story he was relating. He sat in silence for a long time.

    After the end of the war, he attended teacher’s training school and was part of a discussion group of 40 or 50 young men.

    Most of these men were former soldiers, some from his own unit. One by one they became Christians. So did Mr Kubo. It happened while he was teaching at a Junior High School that he met a Norwegian missionary who told him about Christianity.

    So he then changed the direction of his career and studied at the Kobe Lutheran Bible Institute. After graduating as a Lutheran Pastor, Rev Kubo spent many fruitful year in various churches in central Japan. Now in semi-retirement, he and his wife are actively engaged in senior Pastoral care at the the Good Samaritan Church in Park Town, Kawanishi City.

    Over the years the war has became a distant memory but on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki every August, he recalls how his life was spared and he never become a suicide craft rider. Instead Rev Kubo has live his life at peace with God, and bringing that peace to others.

    In 1998, while I was living in Kawanishi, I asked Rev Kubo if I could interview him about his war-time experiences. He kindly agreed. This is his story written up from notes which were interpreted to me at that time.

    Now in 2016 in Hamilton, New Zealand, I am looking again at this story on the eve of the 71st Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I offer it as one man’s recollections of these events which still linger through the decades.

Edith Morris


Copyright 2016 Edith Morris