By Nam Sang-so

Martin L Zapf was 19 and a radio operator of a US B-29 bomber On Aug. 8, 1945, some 200 B-29s left Tinian airbase in the Mariana Islands to bomb Yahata, Kyushu, Japan. His plane was shot and Zapf bailed out with nine other crew members over the Sea of Japan, now the East Sea

The pilot was killed, and the surviving crewmembers shared a life raft, a few pints of water and a handful of candies. After drifting for seven days, they were picked up by a Japanese fishing boat and taken as prisoners of war On Aug. 6, Hiroshima was atomic bombed, as was Nagasaki on Aug. 9 The B-29 crews knew the bombing operation on Hiroshima as the 393rd Bombardment Squadron B-29 Enola Gay accompanied by two other B-29s left the same Tinian base two days before, but they didn’t know they were to drop an atomic bomb.

On Aug. 15, the captured airmen were blindfolded, their hands tied behind them, and taken barefoot to Hiroshima where the atomic bomb was dropped nine days before. Japan surrendered on that day, but the Americans were not informed. Japanese Army Lt. Shinichi Fukui, who spoke English, was leading the party of 10 prisoners.

“Open your eyes wide, and look at what you Americans have done to innocent Japanese citizens by dropping an atomic bomb!” shouted the officer as the soldiers’ blindfolds were removed. “We saw nothing. As far as the eye could see there was nothing but burnt-out ruins. There was no silhouette of a human being but the offensive smell of scorching meat was wafting in the air,” Zapf told American reporters after he was released.

The American prisoners were taken to a detention camp near Hiroshima port where they saw two of their fellow fliers who were caught as POWs much earlier Their bodies were festering from the radioactivity of the atomic bomb. The two sick men told the newcomers that 10 US POW fliers who were shot down over Kyushu died in the bombing and the last two airmen died in captivity. The new POWs realized then that their colleagues on the two B-29 bombers that flew out from the Tinian base two days before their mission had killed 12 of their comrades.

An angry senior Hiroshima military police officer ordered Lt. Fukui to decapitate all of the remaining American POWs. Understanding English, Fukui knew that Japan would lose the war and risked his life in ignoring the order The 10 POWs who had first witnessed the destruction of Hiroshima nine days after the atomic blast returned to their homes in the US

Zapf returned to Japan in 1965 and found Fukui, who was then a farmer The two former enemies, or the lifesaver and the man who escaped death, tightly hugged without words.

In August 2005, Zapf, now 80, again visited Hiroshima Dozens of old Japanese men and women warmly welcomed the former enemy. A 70-year-old fisherman stepped out and, after making three big bows to the American, said, “I don’t know how to apologize for my insane act I had done to you 60 years ago. I was one of the boys who had beaten you with stick. You don’t know me, you were blindfolded.” “We are friends now,” said the American who was undergoing chemotherapy treatment which he knew was prompted by his exposure to radioactive fallout after the bomb was dropped.

In April 2015, President Obama and Prime Minister Abe hugged each other and agreed upon revised US-Japan Defense Cooperation Guidelines.

The writer is a Japanese-English-Korean translator His email address is sangsonam@gmail. com

SOURCE: The Korea Times