Luckiest or Unluckiest?

Tsutomu Yamaguchi, 29, was on a business trip for his employer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. After three long months away from his wife and children, he was finally heading home on that warm summer Monday morning. He and two co-workers arrived at the train station early that morning and were waiting when Yamaguchi discovered he had left in the office his hanko, an official stamp used in place of his signature on business documents. Fortunately, there was still enough time to make a quick trip back into the city to retrieve this important tool. He was stepping off of a tram when an unimaginably bright light went off. The date was August 6, 1945, and an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, had just dropped a 13-kiloton uranium atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Yamaguchi was less than 2 miles from the explosion.

Hiroshima after the bomb

The bomb temporarily blinded him, destroyed his eardrums, and left him with serious burns on the left side of his body. It had killed more than 70,000 other people. Several hours later, in spite of his wounds, Yamaguchi walked back to the station where his two co-workers had also survived. They managed to find a bomb shelter which they spent the night in. The next day, with Yamaguchi swaddled in bandages, they began their journey home. It took two days.

After arriving back home, a doctor put a salve on his wounds and changed the bandages which covered the upper part of his body. The next day, Yamaguchi reported to work. He was in the office explaining what had happened in Hiroshima to his boss when once again, a bright light hit just like before. The U.S. B-29 bomber Bock’s Car had dropped the atomic bomb “Fat Man” on Yamaguchi’s home city of Nagasaki. Just as before, he was less than 2 miles from the epicenter.

Amazingly, Yamaguchi survived once again. His bandages were mostly blown off and his wounds were covered in dirt, but he suffered no additional bodily trauma. He was unable to get his wounds properly cleaned and re-bandaged and for over a week he suffered from a high fever due to infections. It would take several years for him to recover enough that he no longer had to wear bandages, but he had survived. The bombing of Nagasaki had killed over 73,800 others.

After the war, Yamaguchi served as a translator for the American forces and then became a school teacher before eventually going back to work for Mitsubishi. For twice surviving an atomic bomb, he was given a small monthly compensation from the Japanese government, free medical checkups and a free funeral. In the final years of his life, he wrote a memoir and appeared in the 2006 documentary “Twice Bombed, Twice Survived: The Doubly Atomic Bombed of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

More than 144,000 people died from the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan. Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only person officially recognized by the Japanese government as surviving both explosions, passed away on January 4, 2010, over 64 years later.