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Hiroshima's Legacy: the Story Of One Japanese Family

Motoko Sakama lives in Tokyo. Her father was the mayor of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, the day an American B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on that city. This account of her family's experience was published in the August 1967 edition of Fujin no Tomo, a well-respected monthly magazine aimed at women, and appears here for the first time in English. LOOKING BACK AT HIROSHIMA

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I soon learned details about Hiroshima and that my mother was alive, although seriously injured. It wasn't until Aug. 16 that I could board a freight train for Hiroshima, leaving my husband at the hospital in a nurse's care.

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I recall a sad incident that reflects the social situation at the time. While I was dozing on the train, all of the food and medicine I had brought for my mother was stolen.

I spent the night on the train, and as Hiroshima neared, I was surprised at the strange smell. When I got off the train, I was stunned at the sight of empty fields reduced to ashes.

I couldn't orient myself. I began to walk along a road with no sign posts, using Mt. Hiji and Port Ujina as landmarks. I suppose I walked six miles to reach my mother in Takasu, in the suburbs of Hiroshima, walking through a city of death in the scorching August sunshine. Ten days had passed since the bomb had exploded, but there were still burning smells and violent odors. The maggots and flies breeding all over the city made it clear to me how devastating the attack had been. I wondered if there were any other war ruins as ghastly as Hiroshima.

I managed to reach the house where my mother was being cared for. Immediately I rushed to her and burst into tears in her embrace, forgetting to greet the people of the house. My mother's mouth was cut, and she was worn out, but I was so grateful she was alive.

My mother said to me in repentance, ''I am so sorry for the death of Ayako.'' Looking at her crying in apology, I could never lament for my dead daughter. My mother soon regained her presence of mind and began to talk about the bombing.

Home near epicenter

According to my mother, there was tension on the morning of Aug. 6 in Hiroshima because of air raids that had begun the previous night. During the raids, my father had read the Bible and prayed in a shelter, as was his habit. He had also read ''For a Sleepless Night,'' by Carl Hilty.

My parents were living in a long, narrow house located within 500 meters (about one-third of a mile) of the epicenter. My father, my brother, and my daughter were relaxing after breakfast in the living room, which overlooked a river. They were relieved at the lifting of the air-raid warning (the all-clear had sounded at 8 a.m.). My mother was alone in the kitchen near the entrance.

At 8:15, the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. My mother remembered the flash, but lost consciousness immediately under the collapsed house. Not knowing how she crawled out of the house, she found herself lying in the compound of a shrine nearby. She suddenly thought of her husband and other family members. Although injured, she managed to reach a bridge near her house, but confronted a sea of flames that prevented her from going any farther.

I can imagine how she felt when she was looking at that scene with the realization that her family was inside the flames. Around her a lot of people, many almost naked, were rushing to escape the fire. People were screaming, ''Water, water!'' and dying with their heads dipped in the river. The roads were covered with bodies, people lying down in acute pain, and people overcome by stupor. It was like hell on earth, my mother said.

My mother was later brought to the partly burned Nisseki Hospital by an acquaintance and placed under the care of our relatives. It was so blessed a thing that I greatly thanked them.

Three days later, with the flames waning, a Hiroshima city official went to look for our families. He soon found corpses believed to be those of my father and brother, but not Ayako's.

The official searched again, and tearfully told my mother that he found a small skeleton beside my father's. Some of their bones were carefully put in three boxes. It was a fortunate thing, compared with other bereaved families who could never find the remains of their loved ones. Little Ayako probably died being hugged by my father.

Mother's last gift