- Historic Sites
“A Straight Path Through Hell ”
Stationed near Nagasaki at the close of the war, a young photographer ventured into the devastated city, and stayed for months
June/July 2005 | Volume 56, Issue 3
In March of 1946 we were called to attention outside the barracks.
“You guys are going home tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” I thought. “What am I going to do with all my negatives?”
There was supposed to be a final inspection the next day at 7:00 A.M., and I kept thinking about the Japanese photographer whose work had been confiscated. Then it came to me. I had several large boxes of photographic paper marked “Do not expose to light. Do not open.” I put all the negatives into the boxes and sealed them. I hoped they would skip me during inspection, but they came right up to me.
“You have quite a lot of equipment there, Sarge.”
“I need it.”
“Why do you need it?”
“I’m a photographer. I take pictures and print them. I need film, chemicals, and paper.”
“Where’s this stuff going?”
“Well, you sure have a lot.”
“I need a lot.”
I don’t know what would have happened if they had searched my belongings and found the negatives. They would have confiscated the pictures, and they might even have sent me to the brig. No one on our side quite knew how to react to the atomic bomb, whether to be open and proud about it or secretive and ashamed.
Now that it was time to leave Japan I found I didn’t want to go. Hell, I was a kid, and horrible as all this was, I was having the time of my life.
But I came home, went to work for the government, and forgot about it all, or at least I thought I did. Years later, many years later, the nightmares began: the voices of the children, the endless stretches of rubble and bone, the stench. Over and over again. The voices were always pitiful, always begging. Yet they were accusing too.