US Military Photo Brings Fresh Hope to Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors

This photo taken by the U.S. military on Aug. 28, 1945 and provided by the photo research division at the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace shows the area where Chiyoko Iwanaga experienced the atomic bombing
This photo taken by the U.S. military on August 28, 1945 could be important evidence for Nagasaki victims fighting for recognition as survivors of the atomic bombing.

A group of surviving victims of the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Nagasaki are using a U.S. military photo as new evidence in a lawsuit claiming that they were exposed to radiation.

According to a report in Japanese newspaper The Maintiff, a group of plaintiffs have launched a lawsuit seeking government relief after they survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki — but were residing in areas outside the designated zones for official recognition as survivors.

Lead plaintiff 87-year-old Chiyoko Iwanaga was living in the former village of Fukahori — which is now part of Nagasaki — when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb that devastated the Japanese city on August 9, 1945.

At 11:02 that day, a 9-year-old Iwanaga was returning from working in a field several hundred meters away from her home and passed under a transmission tower when she witnessed the two planes that dropped the bombs on Nagasaki.

She watched the area towards the Japanese city burn after she found some rocks to settle on upon the coast that evening.

However, despite this, Iwanaga has never been recognized as an official survivor or “hibakusha” of Nagasaki and has never been able to claim relief from the government.

Iwanaga and the other plaintiffs were within 12 kilometers of the hypocenter when the atomic bomb struck, but outside the areas that the national government designated as being eligible for support.

They were never able to get relief for the possibility that their health had been affected by radioactive fallout and receive free medical care as a result.

A Newly-Discovered Photograph

But now, Sei Matsuda, who heads the photo research division at the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace, has discovered a U.S. military photo that may finally be able to help Iwanaga’s claim for relief.

The Mainichi reports that the U.S. military photo shows the former village of Fukahori 19 days after the bombing of Nagasaki.

According to Matsuda, the latest photo is one of six images taken by the U.S. military on August 28, 1945, from a relatively low altitude along the coastline of what is now the southern part of the city of Nagasaki.

It is believed that the photograph may have been taken in preparation for the planned landing of U.S. Marines on Nagasaki in September that year.

As Matsuda continued researching the photo, which is currently in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, he learned of Iwanaga’s testimony of passing under a transmission tower.

Upon looking at the U.S. military photo again, Matsuda could perfectly see that the image showed the steel tower that Iwanaga testified to passing under when the bomb hit, the settlement where she lived at the time, her home, and the rocky coastline from which she had seen the city burning.

New Hope

In a previous lawsuit brought by the plaintiffs, the government has raised doubts about the credibility of Iwanaga’s and others victims’ testimonies, alleging that they were “describing events from their childhood at an advanced age, decades after the bombing.”

However, the discovery of this photograph could provide fresh hope for the survivors who launched a new lawsuit for support for surviving the atomic bombing in 2018. Matsuda notes that the photo “help[s] bring concrete form to the images people have.”

The case is currently ongoing in the Nagasaki District Court.

Image credits: Header photo via U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.