Guest column: Paying the price

On Aug. 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, another bomb hit Nagasaki. Today marks the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.

I was a private first class in charge of a small patrol near Okinawa, which was not then considered a part of Japan. We were to find Japanese patrols bothering an airport in the area. They would leave us for a week at a time, than an officer would come show me a map and say, “That is where we will patrol today.” We would make the patrol, than go back somewhere there was a road. The officer would leave us with rations and water and tell us, “Stay around here, someone will come in a few days.” We had no communication at all, so we didn’t know what had happened for several days after the bombs were dropped.

When we were finally told, we got the propaganda version: No people would be able to go to those areas for 100 years. Everyone who was close to it would eventually die. Actually what happened was that they drew a 50-mile circle around the bomb sites and if you were stationed in them and got cancer, you would be covered.

When we went to Japan in early September, we were stationed 55 miles away from a bomb site. A guy who became first sergeant and several others were loaded on a barge to go to a bomb site to help clean up. In later years, he had cancer all over him. The Army did not believe he went to the bomb site, and he couldn’t locate any of the others who had gone. He was denied benefits and died after several years, using all the money he and his family had and everything they owned to pay for his care.

We had no idea what dropping the bomb would mean to us. The belief at first was it would mean we would live to come home. I believed dropping the bomb was the only thing that would have ended the war, until years later after I had studied history and I found out that Japan had tried to surrender prior to the bombing of Hiroshima.

I was around Japan several times. The large areas were completely wiped out. I am proud of what I saw, though. In the cities, where the war factories were built near schools, the schools were left alone and the war factories were gone.

I was in Japan for five months, on Honshu Island. That is the main island where Tokyo is. As I say, I saw a lot of what happened. The Air Force firebombed Tokyo and Yokohama the day after the first atomic bomb and killed more civilians than the bomb did. When I came home, I rode the train through Tokyo and Yokohama. Those cities were black cinders about three feet deep and nothing else.

They paid one hell of a price for Pearl Harbor.

Van Leuven lives in Roberts.

Van Leuven lives in Roberts.